Court Appointed Special Advocates of Washington County, Maryland, Inc. has just been awarded certification by the National Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Association. This certification recognizes that Court Appointed Special Advocates of Washington County is in compliance with National CASA’s high standards for quality child advocacy. The Organization/Program scored a 97.85% in overall scores in 14 categories, evaluating organizational management and program operations. This score is up slightly over the 2011 assessment score of 97%, and recognized as continued quality of advocacy services to abused and neglected children, many of whom are in foster care in Washington County.
According to Tara Perry, Interim CEO/Chief Operating Officer of the National CASA Association, “The National CASA quality assurance process is very rigorous, and reflects our commitment to ensure every child served has a powerful volunteer advocate working on their behalf and a strong program supporting their work. This certification says Court Appointed Special Advocates of Washington County has demonstrated to us the capacity to provide excellent advocacy to the abused and neglected children within their community.”
A Court Appointed Special Advocates program was started in 1991, operating under the name of Child Advocacy Program, is the second oldest Court Appointed Special Advocates program in Maryland. In 2005, under the administration of the Washington County Health Department, the official name change to be representative of the program affiliation with the National CASA Association, the program name was changed to Court Appointed Special Advocates of Washington County.
Court Appointed Special Advocates of Washington County officials report that approximately 200 children are under the jurisdiction of the Court every day in Washington County; and, approximately 150 of these children reside in Maryland Department of Human Resources licensed foster care. These are children who have done nothing wrong, but are reflective of parental substance abuse, mental health, incarceration, abandonment, domestic violence, socio-economic, appropriate parenting skill issues. The children are entered into jurisdiction of the Courts, and in most cases care and/or custody of Washington County Department of Social Services which oversees foster care, relative care, or treatment foster, and as well, cases of guardianship, until the parents/guardians remedy the precipitating cause of abuse/neglect initiating Court jurisdiction and DSS care.
If the precipitating cause which initiated Courts and child welfare systems involvement is alleviated or corrected, the children are reunified with the natural, biological family, or guardianship that was originally in place. If the corrective action is not successful, the Courts determine an alternative permanency plan to “Another Planned Permanent Living Arrangement” (long-term foster care, if the child is 16 years or older), legal guardianship, or adoption.
Court Appointed Special Advocates currently serves 70 children under these placement options. In FY15, the program served 89 children. In FY16 to date, the program has served 104 children. The Program currently has 66 volunteers who serve as Advocates. Most Advocates are assigned on a one-to-one, child to Advocate basis, but some are assigned to a sibling set. Advocates remain with a child’s appointment through the duration of the Court’s jurisdiction. In FY15, the average length of time of case advocacy was 14.5 months, with cases ranging in length of advocacy services from 6 – 26 months.
Organizational officials report that the program has increased services over 300% in its ten-year operations, but, too, recognized that there are more children in foster care than volunteers to serve as Advocates. Board of Directors have revised program goals from serving 50% of the children under the jurisdiction of the Courts, a goal established in 2012, to one day being able to provide all children with an Advocate. A date of successful accomplishment of that goal is unnamed, contingent upon the recruitment and training of additional volunteers to serve as Advocates.
In reaching this goal, persons interested in becoming advocates for children who have been abused and neglected are asked to call program offices, 240-347-4979. The Program has scheduled the next training class to be conducted in April. The Program offers various training models from on-line, to classroom, to a hybrid model of both. There is no cost to become an Advocate. All Advocates must be at least 21 years old, and agree to a rigorous back ground screening process to include criminal background, sexual offenders, and child welfare listings.
Organizational officials recognize and appreciate the many state and local, public and private grantors, benefactors and contributors to make this program success possible. Public grantors include Maryland Administrative Office of the Courts – CASA Programs Management, and Foster Care Court Improvement Project, and Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention. Local funding support is provided by United Way of Washington County, Alice Virginia and David W. Fletcher Foundation, Washington County Office of Grants Management – Gaming Commission, Nora Roberts Foundation, Richard N. Funkhouser Foundation, Exchange Club of Antietam – Hagerstown, Rotary Club of Hagerstown Charitable Foundation, Rotary Club of Hagerstown – Sunrise Foundation, Community Foundation of Washington County, and many private contributors.
Organization officials, too, recognize the strong, direct support of the Court and child welfare systems in the community to include the Fourth Judicial Circuit Court serving as the division of the Courts presiding over child abuse and neglect adjudication cases, Washington County Department of Social Services, Washington County Public Schools, Washington County Health Department, the many mental and medical health care providers serving children in Washington County, and the Maryland Legislative Assembly for oversight and enactment of statutes protecting children in our state.
Organization officials recognize child abuse and neglect as a community health indicator, and thanks the community for all the support to reduce and eliminate child abuse.