State grant will let CASA fund services for 50 additional kids

Hank Hayes • May 30, 2008 at 12:00 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — About 50 additional foster children will be helped in Northeast Tennessee’s juvenile court system through a $25,000 Community Enhancement Grant (CEG) accepted Friday by CASA for Kids.

The grant award for CASA — Court Appointed Special Advocates — was announced at the private business office of Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville.

Ramsey was joined by House Republican Leader Jason Mumpower of Bristol and Republican state Rep. Jon Lundberg of Bristol during a morning check handover to CASA Executive Director Connie Steere.

State Rep. Nathan Vaughn, D-Kingsport, also has given a $5,000 CEG check to CASA, Steere said.

Last year, more than 600 children in Sullivan and Hawkins counties were served by nearly 100 CASA volunteers, Steere noted in a news release.

“They had advocacy through our juvenile courts,” Steere said. “Yet another 600-plus children in Sullivan and Hawkins County, who also desperately needed a CASA volunteer on their case, did not have one.”

The National CASA Association has launched an ongoing project called “Forgotten Children: Foster Children Take a Stand” to raise awareness about more than 500,000 foster children nationwide.

“They may be moved from foster home to foster home or they may go back to circumstances that become worse because they didn’t get any help,” Steere said of foster children. “The U.S. Justice Department says 53 percent of these kids become delinquent. Thirty-eight percent of them end up in federal prison.”

Bristolian Josh Shumaker, who has worked in Ramsey’s Nashville office and is a rising senior at Wofford College, was helped by CASA volunteers when he went through a custody battle as a teenager.

Shumaker said at the check handover event that he was living in a single-parent household and wanted to live with his aunt and uncle.

“I felt more comfortable with them and started seeing a change in my life. ... The CASA volunteers were the eyes and ears of the court. They sat down with me and talked with me. I never had to go into foster care,” Shumaker said.

Mumpower noted that he and his GOP colleagues were mindful the CEG grants could be perceived as wasteful state spending.

“We specifically looked for organizations that utilize taxpayers’ dollars in a way that return more to the community than they took,” Mumpower said. “(CASA) helps rescue children from bad situations and helps them be leaders in our community and they don’t wind up in jail.”

Ramsey said lawmakers put accountability in the CEGs during last year’s budget process.

“The organizations (receiving CEGs) have to be audited. I haven’t heard the first complaint about them,” Ramsey said.

For more about CASA locally or to find out how to become a CASA volunteer call 247-1161.

For more information about the National CASA Association go to www.nationalcasa.org.

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