A new program to provide advocates for Sauk County children who have been abused or neglected is up and running.
Court Appointed Special Advocates Program Manager Mary Jo Elert said 11 people have volunteered and undergone training since the initiative went online earlier this month.
Two of those volunteers were active in a prior CASA program that was a joint venture between Sauk and Columbia counties. The former program disbanded in 2013 mainly due to dwindling donations and contributions from state and federal governments.
The Sauk County Board approved funding to resurrect the program locally in November 2015 during deliberations on the 2016 budget. Former Supervisor Tut Gramling of Baraboo won support for an amendment to set aside $50,000 for the program this year.
The funds were distributed to Hope House of South Central Wisconsin, a nonprofit group that provides shelter and other assistance to people affected by domestic violence and sexual assault, which will manage the Sauk County CASA program.
Elert said her goal is to have 17 volunteer advocates by the end of 2017. “I think we’re way ahead of our target at this point,” she said.
Volunteers are not required to have any special training or educational background. They undergo 30 hours of training before they are sworn in as an officer of the court and assigned a child.
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CASA advocates then study the child’s case, meet with him or her once or twice a month, and provide verbal and written reports to the court to help judges make decisions that protect the interest of the child.
CASA serves children who are in jeopardy of being removed from their home, or already have been removed and placed in foster care. Volunteers assist them within the legal system to either be reunited with their family or put up for adoption.
Hope House Executive Director Ellen Allen said the program will ensure that vulnerable children have more support within the social service and judicial systems.
“Such support is shown to reduce the need for juvenile detention and future incarceration, as well as other taxpayer-funded services as the children grow into adulthood,” she said. “It will have a meaningful impact not only on our systems and in our community but more importantly, in positively affecting the lives of each child appointed to a CASA volunteer. This is what caring communities do.”
Elert said the biggest future challenge will be finding a way to maintain funding. The county’s proposed 2017 spending plan includes funding for the program within the Register in Probate’s budget.
Hope House is planning open house events this winter in order to help educate the public about the CASA program.