Benedict said that in 2011, 769 volunteers spent an average of 81.5 hours tracking the cases of 3,074 foster children statewide. Grauwiler said the volunteers in New York City provide an average of 720 hours of service a year.
"We tend to get assigned the most difficult cases," said Benedict. "We are concerned about the health, both the mental health and physical health of children, and their education. We want to know their wants and needs. We interview families, foster families, the children themselves, school, teachers, counselors and we gather all this information and we report back to the Family Court judge… Our mission is safe, permanent homes for children as quickly as possible."
A fair percentage of the volunteers are retired, often one-time teachers and lawyers. Benedict, who became state coordinator when funding for the group's executive director was lost due to earlier cuts, said law students interested in becoming more versed on the Family Courts are also well-represented in the CASA ranks.
Siegel, the CASA president, said CASA programs are "hugely cost effective" because they help place children in permanent homes and divert youngsters from more expensive temporary foster care arrangements.
"It is penny wise and pound foolish to be cutting these programs that provide a real safety net for these children," he said.
Siegel added that the funding cut would cripple the advocacy system in New York City and elsewhere by depriving programs of money to train and oversee the system of volunteers at CASA's core.
"When you take money away from the local programs, you are taking money away from training these volunteers who are in the Family Court every day, who are assigned by the judges to look after the really high-risk children," he said.
National CASA funding from Congress, some of which trickled down to New York, also has suffered a 69 percent reduction in recent years to further reduce aid available to the program, according to Siegel.
He said he hopes to convince court administrators, Governor Andrew Cuomo's office or the state Legislature to restore the funding.
The concept of CASAs was pioneered by David Soukup, a superior court judge in Seattle who developed the idea of having people track the school records, health care needs and other aspects of the lives of children involved in Family Court matters.