TRENTON –Senators Linda Greenstein (D-Middlesex/Mercer) and Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) today said the refusal of Senate Republicans to support a program that provides court-appointed advocates to children who have suffered abuse or abandonment is an indefensible act by the minority party.
The Senators sponsored a resolution, SCR-231, which would have restored $289,000 for the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program, which the governor vetoed from the FY 2012 State Budget submitted by Democrats. The override failed by a vote of 24-15.
“This program provides a lifeline to our most vulnerable children by ensuring those who have been abused and abandoned, and have no one else to advocate on their behalf, are not left to fend for themselves. The court-appointed advocates ensure that children who are no longer under their parent’s care because of maltreatment are safe and are placed in a stable home,” said Senator Greenstein. “This loss of funding will deprive nearly 200 children of the ability to have an advocate standing with them in the courtroom when critical decisions are made regarding their well-being. There is no justifiable reason to vote against providing $289,000 in funding for this program, when the money is available. This is just indefensible.”
The CASA volunteers are unpaid; however, every 30 volunteers must be supervised by a case supervisor. The funding for this program goes to pay the salaries of case supervisors, which average $32,000 a year. Supervisors do not receive benefits or pensions.
“The job of these volunteers is to advocate for the defenseless – children who have been abused, who have been neglected or whose parents are mentally ill,” said Senator Weinberg. “There is no other way to describe this vote by Republicans than to say that it is downright cruel. I personally cannot fathom how anyone who voted in opposition to restoring funding for this program will be able to sleep tonight with this on their conscience.”
The bill would have restored $289,000 in funding for county-based Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) programs, which support volunteers who advocate for the more than 10,000 children who are in out-of-home placements due to physical, sexual, psychological abuse or abandonment. CASA volunteers ensure these children have a voice in court proceedings. Specifically, they ensure that the children are safe, that they get the services they need and are placed in a nurturing, permanent home as quickly as possible.
In FY 2010, the program was cut by 25 percent, which led children in some the neediest counties, Essex and Camden in particular, to slip through the cracks. Because of the funding drop, some counties were unable to fund recruitment, training and supervision of volunteers. The measure would have returned funding for the program to its FY2009 level, and allowed the program to serve an additional 150 to 200 children.