By Dusty Murphy

On Tuesday, March 8, the Children’s Advocacy Centers (CACs) and the National Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) held a briefing to highlight the importance of their two programs and the need for full appropriations in FY 2017.  The briefing, cosponsored by Congressman Ted Poe (R-TX) and Congressman Jim Costa (D-CA), co-chairs of the Congressional Victims’ Rights Caucus, included presentations from Teresa Huizar, Executive Director , National Children’s Alliance, and Tara Perry, CEO,  National CASA.

Teresa Huizar gave an overview of the accreditation standards put in place for Children’s Advocacy Centers across the country.  These centers are focused on providing a central location for critical partners to come together in instances of child abuse.  The collaborations include local providers and agencies such as law enforcement, mental health, child protective services, and physicians to ensure that the child victim’s needs are met.  Services provided include forensic interviews, mental health services, coordination of medical services, and continued support as the case moves through the justice system.

Services are not required to end upon case closure, and children can return to the agency after case closure if needed.  Children are seen regardless of income, insurance provider or other potential sources of support.  Children’s Advocacy Centers served 311,000 children in 2015.  Unfortunately, 40% of all counties in the United States do not have access to a Children’s Advocacy Center.

Tara Perry provided an overview of the benefits of having a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) in child abuse or neglect cases.  CASAs work with the child to ensure that their needs are met and their rights are addressed and represent the best interests of the child.  Last year, CASA representatives served 251,000 children through CASA or Guardian Ad Litem programs.

CASA representatives are assigned one case to work with through completion, with many advocates continuing to maintain connections with the children long after services have been terminated.  CASA representatives also provide transitioning services for children who will be aging out of the foster care system.  Ms. Perry reported that there are currently 450,000 children awaiting an advocate, and emphasized that the most beneficial partnership for the child would include a CASA representative in addition to a Guardian Ad Litem.

Both organizations are seeking steady funding to enable them to continue to provide services for the growing number of children who need them.  The National Children’s Alliance is requesting $20 million, the program’s authorized level.  The CASA’s are seeking $12 million.  The funding request for FY 2017 (starting October 1, 2016) would come from funds built up in the Crime Victims Funds generated by criminal fines and penalties.