Peggy Grauwiler, executive director of the New York City CASA, said she was "living in fear" of a possible funding cut,"but when it came, it still seems shocking."
She said the loss of state funding would cause her group, which coordinates the work of about 120 volunteers and has a budget of $1 million a year, to cease operations.
Arthur Siegel, president of CASA: Advocates for Children of New York State, predicted that the futures of many of the other 20 CASA programs in the state would be imperiled by the lost appropriation. The programs outside New York City, some of which cover more than one county, serve about 1,600 children.
"We are one of these well-kept secrets," said Siegel, a partner at Bond, Schoeneck & King in Albany. "We don't get a lot of press. We don't get a lot of attention. But I really believe a lot of these programs are going to close."
In New York, a task force chaired by Howard Levine, the retired Court of Appeals judge, urged creation of CASAs in 2004, and guidelines governing their activities were written into the Rules of the Chief Judge (Part 44) and Rules of Chief Administrative Judge (Part 117) in the 2005-06 fiscal year.
The rules largely track standards for the training and activities of volunteers established by the Seattle-based national CASA Association.
Goal of Permanency
Levine, a Family Court judge in Schenectady County from 1971 to 1980, said he was surprised that CASA funding was eliminated in the Judiciary's budget, "mainly because it is a drop in the budget in a billion-dollar budget."
"It would be very sad and frankly it would be counterproductive" if the program dies because of the lost appropriation, Levine said yesterday.
"The main thing is they are successful in helping establish permanency for these kids," said Levine, who is now senior counsel at Whiteman, Osterman & Hanna in Albany. "If you get these kids decent help with CASA volunteers you are saving the state tens of thousands of dollars. I think that is where the program has special appeal."
Though specific rules for the CASA programs in New York vary somewhat, all volunteers must undergo at least 30 hours of training and clear security checks before becoming eligible for assignment to cases by Family Court judges.
To provide both courts and foster children with continuity of services, volunteers are typically required to commit to tracking individual cases for one or two years. In some instances, volunteers are asked to follow children through the foster care process until they are placed in permanent homes, a process that can take several years, said Barbara Benedict, state CASA coordinator.