Clallam County CASA program seeks grant

Commissioners set to look at budget emergency today

PORT ANGELES — Clallam County is seeking a federal $750,000 grant to support its Court Appointed Special Advocate program over the next three years.

The Clallam County commissioners will consider a $48,590 budget emergency today to temporarily fund those positions through September.

Jody Jacobson, the director of Juvenile and Family Services, told Clallam County commissioners earlier this month that the award would be announced in September and would start in October.

“We applied to continue funding our CASA program with our current two CASA volunteer coordinators and the part-time assistant to continue with recruitment and retention and support of our volunteers,” she said.

The grant is called “Enhancing Community Responses to the Opioid Crisis: Serving Our Youngest Victims.”

The hope is that the grant would replace the Victims of Crime Act grant that had been funding 2.5 positions that have been key to the program’s growth in recent months, she said.

The 20-month grant funded 2.5 positions that helped the program go from 19 CASAs in 2017, serving a third of the children in dependency court, up to 66 volunteers now. There are expected to be 80 volunteers by this fall.

The county has been scrambling to find funding for the program after county officials learned last month that the state would not renew the grant.

Commissioner Randy Johnson said earlier this month that one of the people filling those positions has decided not to continue with the CASA program because of the lack of stability.

Those employees support CASA volunteers, especially new volunteers, who advocate for the county’s most vulnerable children in dependency court. They learn about each situation and tell the judge what is best for each child.

“In the case of the CASA program, if you don’t have a CASA volunteer, you have someone we pay for on the legal side with Public Defender,” Johnson said. “We end up paying for it.

“In my personal opinion, if we don’t have people looking after these kids on a continuing basis, everyone in this room is going to pay for it for the rest of their lives.”

Jacobson estimated that about 85 percent of the children in dependency court in Clallam County are there as a result of the local opioid crisis.

She said it’s “hard to say” if the county will receive the grant, but that it would be critical for funding the 2.5 positions in the long term.

Jacobson said that if the county does not receive the grant, it will need to scale back on its recruitment efforts and volunteer support.

Commissioner Mark Ozias said this issue highlights the “ongoing challenge in county government across many areas we operate,” he said.

“How do we provide funding for programs that have been grant-funded,” Ozias said. “This underscores the importance of maintaining a general fund reserve so we have flexibility when a program has an unexpected need.”

The service is mandated by the state. When there are not enough volunteers to advocate for all the children in dependency court, attorneys are assigned to them.

“Not having child representation in the dependency system has a huge impact on the health and welfare of the most vulnerable victims in our community,” Jacobson wrote in county form for applying for grants.

“Statistics show that without representation by a CASA volunteer, a child spends longer in foster care, is moved from stranger home to stranger home at a much higher rate, and is less likely to receive individualized care.

“With a CASA volunteer they are more likely to find their forever home.”

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Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at jmajor@peninsula dailynews.com.

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