CASA seeks support from Fiscal Court for Lincoln County child abuse victims

Published 9:04 am Friday, April 21, 2023

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STANFORD – For every 1,000 children in Lincoln County, 24.5 of them are victims of dependency, neglect and abuse, according to a 2022 report from the Administrative Office of the Court.

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A new report for 2022 was released recently, placing Kentucky as the sixth-worst state in the nation for child abuse and neglect.

“Unfortunately, that is nothing to be proud about,” said Melynda Jamison, executive director of CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) of Lexington.

Jamison spoke to Lincoln County Fiscal Court magistrates about the new statistics during the court’s April 11 meeting, as well as what CASA does in the communities it serves.

CASA volunteers are trained and then assigned to children involved in local family court cases to speak up for the best interests of abused and neglected children.

“We’re all for reunification if it is a safe and permanent option, but in many cases that’s not going to be the situation,” she said. “We recently got a case here in Lincoln County with a 10- and a 12-year-old and they both have children and they are children of their dad and grandfather. So big issues are going on here.”

Jamison said CASA has seen many challenging cases since they began serving in Lincoln County last April.

“Our program serves Fayette, Bourbon, Woodford, Scott, Jessamine, Garrard and Lincoln counties,” she said.

CASA is not funded by the state so the program relies on annual fundraisers, grants and donations.

“Outside of Lincoln County, we do get funding from every county and city that we serve,” she said. “It’s not funding the program but they’re giving a small amount from the fiscal court and city budgets to help fund that program.”

Jamison provided magistrates with statistics from each county that CASA of Lexington serves.

“You see, looking at the other counties that we serve, unfortunately, Lincoln County is the highest,” she said. “Garrard is the next highest at 19.7.”

According to the report, Jessamine County has about 18.1 victims per 1,000 children; Fayette County has 13.4; Bourbon County has 11.6; Scott County has 10.7; and Woodford County has 8.3.

Lincoln County’s child abuse rate is down somewhat from 2021, which was 26.4 abuse victims per 1,000 children.

“Last year here in Lincoln County there were 143 new victims of child abuse and neglect, and that’s the AOC of new petitions that were substantiated,” she said. “The average case runs between two and three years so at any given time it’s about 300 children that are victims of abuse, neglect and dependency here in Lincoln County.”

Right now, Fayette County funds are being used to run the Lincoln County program, she said.

Lincoln County Attorney Daryl Day said he’s been county attorney almost 17 years and he knows the numbers of child abuse cases reported is just “scratching the surface.”

“It goes so much deeper than that and there are so many more than that, that would technically fall under the definition of neglected or abused,” Day said. “So if she’s telling you there’s 143 cases filed, I will tell you there’s at least twice that many kids in Lincoln County that are dependent, neglected or abused.”

Day said CASA’s only goal is to represent the child.

“The child will have an appointed attorney. A lot of times that attorney will have private office stuff, they’ll have 50 other children they’re appointed for in other counties. A CASA volunteer generally is assigned one child and their only goal is to help that child,” he said. “It’s something we need desperately. Luckily we have them, they’ve stepped in. We need to find funding.”

Day suggested seeing if part of the opioid settlement funds could be used to help fund CASA.

“You can make a case that this is helping deal with the opioid problem because most of the children that are in this are because of some type of addiction,” he said.

Jamison said about 90 percent of the cases involve addiction.

“Attorney Cameron has already approved opioid abatement funds, as well as ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funds…both have already been approved to be used for CASA programs,” she said.

Jamison also shared some CASA statistics with magistrates.

“88 percent of kids that have a CASA volunteer never come back into the system,” she said. “That looks at foster care, as well as incarceration. So that’s something to think about as you’re looking at paying to transport and have other counties funding individuals that are incarcerated – if we can break this cycle and get these individuals working, becoming contributing members of our community … why would we not do everything we can to do that.”

Jamison said CASA would love to see Lincoln County contribute funding to the program.

“We would love to see that it be at least the same as Garrard County, which is $5,000 but I realize every city and county is unique and appreciate that. We would love to have every city and county engaged in some faction,” Jamison said.

Magistrate David Faulkner said the fiscal court is currently hosting budget workshops and will consider the request.

“We’ll certainly look at trying to help in some way,” he said.