CASA gets $250K grant to help foster children
— A program designed to match a trained volunteer to a child in the foster care system recently got a $253,142 federal grant that will go a long way toward boosting its 18-monthold operation here in the county.
Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), a private, nonprofit group that operates in 21 of Maryland’s 24 jurisdictions, is still in its infancy in Cecil County after being established in the spring of 2015 on a shoestring budget of $35,000 from two different grants.
The federal grant CASA received is part of $46 million in federal funds that came from the Victims of Crime Act Victim Assistance program and through the Governor’s Office of Crime, Control and Prevention and was awarded to multiple organizations statewide. CASA applied for the grant over the summer and was notified Nov. 21 of its acceptance.
“This news is so exciting,” Cecil County CASA Executive Director Giulia Hodge said in a recent interview. “This has been a journey, but it’s a good one.”
Cecil County CASA grew out of efforts by a local committee comprised of judges, child welfare professionals, lawyers and court personnel who saw the need and did the groundwork in 2014, securing a $20,000 grant from the state’s Administrative Office of the Courts and a $15,000 grant from the Donaldson Brown Foundation.
Statistics show that over 1,776 reports of child abuse, or neglect were suspected in Cecil County in 2013, an average of almost five each day. Approximately 150 Cecil County children currently live in foster homes, as a result of abuse or neglect.
Ideally, Hodge wants to have 150 trained volunteers — one per child — to help these children navigate the court system and explain to judges what they’ve learned to be in the best interest of the child when their cases are heard in the courtroom.
“We now have 14 trained volunteers we have assigned to children,” Hodge said, noting they need a lot more.
Each volunteer, who must be at least 21 years old, must complete 30 hours of training, pass a background check and have one court observation before they can be sworn in.
CASA advocates are expected to be in contact with the child they are assigned to at least twice a month, but they can offer more time if they like. They also are expected to investigate the case, gather information about the child, makes sure the child gets all available services and advocate for the child in court.
The grant CASA received is reimbursable, which means the organization has to spend the money first, then get reimbursed for it.
“That presents a bit of a dilemma, since we are so low in funds, but we will work it out,” Hodge said.
Hodge said that CASA’s board of directors has targeted the grant, which spans two years, to allow Hodge to go from part-time to full-time and to begin paying Sarah Wadkins, of Chesapeake City, who has been volunteering as an unpaid intern case manager.
It will also go toward buying some needed equipment and paying for the training of more volunteers.
Hodge was hired as part-time in August 2015 and Wadkins came on board for free in June of this year. CASA is located on the third floor of the countyowned building at 135 E. Main St., just two buildings away from the circuit court.
Cecil County Council President Joyce Bowlsbey, who sits on the CASA board as an ex-officio member, said she’s thrilled CASA received the grant.
“They are new and with virtually no money, only relying on a few fundraisers, so far,” Bowlsbey said. “This is a worthwhile and much needed endeavor to protect our foster children.”
The organization’s next fundraiser will be a family-oriented, indoor miniature golf tournament at the North East VFW on Jan. 15 from 1 to 5 p.m. It’s $10 at the door, $30 for a family and only $8.50 for early registration. Food is included in the ticket price.
Hodge says the county not only needs additional volunteers to become CASA helpers, but also needs more foster homes. For more information about CASA, call the office at 410-9963025, or for more information about fostering a child, call Megan Watt at Social Services at 410-996-0349.
Sarah Wadkins, left, case worker at CASA Cecil County and Giulia Hodge, executive director, are excited about a new grant they received.