LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — For some children, their home is the most dangerous place in the world causing for a frightening reality for thousands of Kentucky children during the coronavirus pandemic.
Court Appointed Special Advocate Executive Director Melynda Jamison in Lexington (CASA of Lexington) explained, "We wholeheartedly believe when you take thousands of children, remove them from the school system until you have no extra set of eyes, and in some scenarios the school system might be the only eyes on these children, outside of the homes that they're in. I'm not sure how we would not see a huge increase in the number of petitions filed."
The child abuse and neglect petitions are filed with the Child Protection Branch of the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family services and tips can be submitted anonymously through the hotline: 1-800-752-6200. Jamison explained she and her team are bracing for unprecedented numbers after children are back in some of their normal activities.
She said, "I expect it will be one of the highest percentage petitions file that we've ever seen."
CASA of Lexington pairs specially trained advocates with children in what Jamison called the "worst of the worst" situations. Those advocates act as the liaison between the child and the state as their case travels through the court system; often being the voice for the child in the courtroom.
In 2019, CASA of Lexington served 625 children with 216 advocates in Fayette, Woodford and Bourbon counties. Amid the coronavirus challenges, advocates are serving about 500 children so far in 2020 through creative methods.
"We don't typically FaceTime or Zoom call for our monthly visits with our children. But, volunteers are coming up with some creative methods," said Jamison. "We've even had a volunteer that visited with a job at a location, the child stayed on the inside of the home. And on the glass window--they used glass, chalk markers and play Tic-Tac-Toe without ever coming in contact."
Jamison explained her worry goes beyond the 500 child cases her team is handling.
She said, "My concern rests with the children that don't even have a petition filed in our court system, so no one had eyes on that child or had reported that there was possibly physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect going on in the home."
The CASA of Lexington team expressed they want to be prepared for those children but will need at least 40 more advocates to be ready for the influx of cases.
Anyone at least 21-years-old can apply to become a CASA advocate. During the unprecedented times, CASA is offering that training online, "So if you've ever thought about being a CASA volunteer, or if your heart says, I believe in the children in my community that find themselves due to no fault of their own, and abuse and neglect situations and I want to do something to change that contact the CASA of Lexington office."
The advocate training process involves the court system. Jamison explained, "You can observe Family Court via Zoom, and we can even get you sworn in by Family Court Judge electronically."
To sign up to become an advocate or learn about other ways you can help, visit casaoflexington.org.