Do we want to kick the can down the road and have our children and their children pay an order of magnitude more to the courts, jails, police, rehabs, homeless shelters and mental health service providers downstream … or do we want to minimize that risk by helping these kids now while we still can, for a fraction of the price?”
El Dorado County has never funded the local CASA. Roughly half of California counties do, however, according to Adams. Average funding, he said, is $55,000 per year, an amount that would nearly offset his funding cuts. He’s talking to county officials about making up the deficit, but isn’t confident that he can convince fiscally frugal supervisors to pay for a service they’ve enjoyed for free since CASA El Dorado was formed in 1992. The other option is increased fundraising, an equally daunting task in the current economy. “The community needs to understand the potential impact of withdrawing our support to these 50-or-so foster kids, many of whom have already suffered abuse and neglect,” he said. “Who knows, maybe someone in the community has the capacity to help out.”
El Dorado County had 582 children in dependency court in 2009. CASA served 439 of them, a 75 percent assignment rate, at a cost of just $1,100 per child. The statewide assignment rate averaged 34 percent at a cost of $2,400 per child. He’s guided the agency through a couple rounds of budget cuts already, asking his four case managers and their boss, program Director Cathie Watson, who manages about 20 cases herself, to take on additional responsibilities. “There’s just no more fat to cut,” he said.
The 2011-12 CASA El Dorado budget is roughly $480,000, most of which came from donations and fundraising, according to Adams. The Superior Court kicked in $55,000. The State Judicial Court added another $59,900. But state funding to local courts was slashed for budget year 2011-12. Local Superior Court officials have told Adams not to expect anything from them in 2012. Without replacement funds, Adams said he’ll be forced to consider reducing payroll, which means case managers, each of whom supports dozens of volunteers. The budgetary impact will eventually be felt by kids who need an advocate. “We already know what the outcomes are for these children,” he said.