ALBANY - The executive director of a program that provides volunteer advocates for more than 1,500 foster children in New York City said the proposed elimination of court system funding would cause her organization to "close our doors."
Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) in New York City would lose $338,000 in state funding and CASAs in 30 counties outside the five boroughs would see cuts of $462,000 beginning April 1 if additional funding is not found.
The $800,000 in CASA funding was not included in the state courts' 2013-14 budget, as it had been in previous Judiciary budgets.
Former chief judge Judith Kaye, a staunch advocate of the program, said she found word of the discontinued funding "very distressing."
"The prospect is just devastating," said Kaye, who is now of counsel to Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. "It's a tremendously useful tool for children and families."
Ronald Younkins, executive director of the Unified Court System, said the CASA appropriation was a casualty in a proposed $2 billion budget in which administrators had to find $50 million to cover mandated cost increases in such areas as pay hikes for judges and unionized court workers, and employee benefits (NYLJ, Dec. 3, 2012).
Younkins called CASA a "very valuable program that serves an important function in states around the country." He said Chief Administrative Judge A. Gail Prudenti (See Profile) and other court officials would meet with CASA coordinators next month to see if restorations are possible.
"We are looking for ways to restore some part of that funding," Younkins said yesterday. "The matter is not yet closed [or] finally decided."
Younkins said CASA may be somewhat less vital in other states because New York has a "robust" attorney-for-the-child program. The budget includes $124 million for lawyers assigned to look out for the interests of minors involved in foster care cases and other Family Court matters.
CASA administrators said the impending loss of state funding comes on top of about five years of flat or diminishing revenues for virtually all CASA programs due to cuts in the Interest on Lawyer Account fund and sluggish private contributions, both because of the poor economy.