The Power of Investing in Our Children
Photo by Jon Keeling
In only seven years, there has been a 70 percent increase in the number of children in the child protection system in Hamilton County. This alarming pace led to 3,554 children in Hamilton County Job and Family Service custody in 2017 alone, many in foster care. With an overwhelmed government system and no end in sight for this growth, Greater Cincinnati’s abused and neglected children need help.
ProKids, an organization that advocates for children in foster care, has stepped up to help address this crisis. “ProKids’ vision is a safe, permanent and nurturing home for every child. The way we go about achieving that is by mobilizing the community, people just like all of us, to speak up for kids who’ve been abused and neglected, and to help guide them to safe environments where they actually have an opportunity to thrive,” says Tracy Cook, ProKids executive director. “Day-to-day, what we’re doing is recruiting, training and supporting community volunteers to speak up for these kids .”
These community volunteers are called CASAs, or Court Appointed Special Advocates. They’re trained to advocate for children who have been abused or neglected, and to provide input on important decisions made regarding the child’s education, medical needs, housing, etc.
Working with the biological family members is an important part of the process. “We work to make sure that parents are receiving the services they need so that they can be in a healthy place to be reunited with their children,” says Amy Russert, a ProKids CASA volunteer who has been involved with ProKids for over 20 years. And if the children are in a foster home, there are other things to consider, like making sure they are safe in their foster homes and “that they’re thriving and that they’re getting all the services they need.”
Most CASA volunteers only work one case at a time, allowing them to truly focus on advocating for the child’s best interests rather than being overwhelmed by a massive caseload. While many county caseworkers have 30 cases or more, Rachel Henry, another ProKids CASA Volunteer, says CASA Volunteers “have more time to dedicate to trying to determine whether or not the child is thriving in their current environment.”
“A lot of these [county] case workers have 30 plus cases, and there’s only so much time that they can invest, and they’re looking out for the needs of the entire family, while CASAs are really representing the best interests of the child,” says Henry.
“We often talk about how CASAs bring ease to the entire system, and the system is incredibly overburdened right now. So this is a system that I’ve never seen stressed to this degree. Hopefully the county commissioners this fall will agree to increase the children’s services levy. That would be the first time in the levy’s 20-year history that it would be increased. Practically every dollar that’s raised locally by the levy is then matched by either state or federal funds, so we have the opportunity to draw down more resources for this growing number of children pouring into the system,” says Cook.
“There’s power in investing in our kids.”
ProKids is located at 2605 Burnet Avenue, Cincinnati, OH 45219. For more information about ProKids or about becoming a CASA volunteer, call 513.281.2000 or visit www.prokids.org/volunteer/.