LEXINGTON, Ky (LEX 18) — Court Appointed Special Advocates of Lexington (CASA) predicted the pandemic would be devastating for children in at-risk environments. Over the past few months they have done what they can to continue advocating for these children in need, but they need more people on their team to, sadly, handle what they predict will be record numbers of cases.
"CASA is an opportunity to change a child's life for the better. In some cases, save a child's life," Executive Director of CASA of Lexington Melynda Jamison said.
When schools shut down and thousands of children were home bound for the foreseeable future, Melynda Jamison knew the reality for some of them would be grim.
"There's national studies out there that say that teachers are the number one reporter of child abuse or neglect, and part of that is because they have consistent viewing of a child coming into their classroom or being absent," Jamison explained.
Any time school is out, Jamison said the number of petitions pertaining to child abuse or neglect go down, and that is exactly what they have seen during the COVID-19 pandemic. She said those numbers do not go down because the abuse stops but because it goes unnoticed.
"Having eyes on a child in person is instrumental," Jamison said. "Virtual is a better alternative than nothing, but you might not see the full child."
Over the past several months, Jamison said CASA has been creative in working with around 500 kids, but she and her team still predict record numbers of cases when life returns to normal. Now, with many children once again not returning to in-person instruction, she is worried these challenges they are already facing and bracing for will only intensify and grow in number.
"So the longer we go in a virtual environment without having physical eyes on the child, I feel like the numbers are only going to soar," she said. "The concern becomes it's already overloaded system."
To tackle these challenges, CASA needs more volunteers. People 21 and older to become specially trained advocates who act as liaisons between a child and the state, often being the voice for the child in the courtroom. CASA of Lexington is ready to train now, virtually.
"We have had infant cases where the judge in court has said if it weren't for CASA I'm not sure we would have ever made it to this adoption day because I'm afraid this would have been a fatality case," Jamison said of the importance of advocates.
Jamison said do not let your lack of knowledge of the system deter you. She said their online, virtual training will prepare you, and, as always, advocates have the support of a full time staff member.
CASA of Lexington serves Fayette, Woodford and Bourbon Counties.
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.
To sign up to become an advocate or learn about other ways you can help, visit casaoflexington.org.