CASA: Drug epidemic leading to increase in family court cases

CASA of the Bluegrass is seeing an increase in Boyle County cases of child dependency, neglect and abuse that come through the family court system.

The director of the nonprofit organization, which provides volunteer advocates to watch out for the interests of children in family court cases, says the increase is due in large part to the continuing drug epidemic.

“In 2016, we had 199 cases filed before the court for dependency and neglect and abuse,” Executive Director Laura Guerrant said. “That number continues to rise every single year due to, I think, the drug epidemic that’s occurring in our county.” 

Records from the Kentucky Administrative Office of the Courts show there were 194 Boyle cases concerning alleged dependency, neglect or abuse in 2015 and 189 in 2014.

“According to the Department of Community Based Services, there are 365 substantiations of abuse and neglect in 2016 for both Boyle and Mercer counties combined,” Guerrant said. 

In 2016, CASA had 181 cases in Mercer County, she said.  

CASA served 105 children in Boyle County and helped 47 cases close, she said.

CASA of the Bluegrass provides advocacy for children victims of abuse or neglect in Boyle, Mercer, Anderson and Franklin counties. 

Guerrant said its mission is to advance the best interests of abused and neglected children through the training and support of community volunteers, who serve as court-appointed special advocates (CASAs) for the children by working with their families and the court. 

Guerrant said CASA volunteers are community members who don’t need to have background in social work or law.

“You have just to care about kids,” she said. 

Children in the family court system are paired with volunteers and each volunteer “gets to know the child and all the parties involved,” Guerrant said. 

The volunteer provides a report to the judge during hearings, she said. 

“They are an extra set of eyes and ears for the judge,” Guerrant said. “The more info he gets, the better.” 

Volunteers are interviewed and provide references, and they undergo a background check. Then, they attend 30 hours of training, she said.

Volunteers are sometimes the only person who is with the child through the entire case process, as they see people in other positions walk in and out of the case over a period of time, Guerrant said.

“The end goal is to make sure the child has a safe and permanent home,” she said. 

SO YOU KNOW

CASA of the Bluegrass is a nonprofit organization and accepts donations. To donate or for more information about becoming a CASA volunteer, visit casaofthebluegrass.org.