Martinsburg, WV – August 10, 2021 – West Virginia’s CASA of the Eastern Panhandle has been awarded a $44,000 Core Model Grant from the National Court Appointed Special Advocate/Guardian ad Litem (CASA/GAL) Association for Children. Funds will be used to recruit, train and assign new volunteers to represent the best interests of children who have experienced abuse or neglect. Work done under the national mentoring grant is designed to target key populations such as American Indian/Alaska Native, rural and opioid-impacted youth.

There are nearly 950 CASA/GAL programs nationwide, including 49 state offices, supporting volunteers who work on behalf of children in the child welfare system. Their one-on-one advocacy for children who have been removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect enables judges to make the most well-informed decisions for each child.

“We are truly grateful for this award from National CASA/GAL Association. These national grant dollars will support our Fostering Futures efforts for youth ages 13 to 17.  Support like this helps enormously with targeted volunteer recruitment, specialized training, and dedicated program management,” said Michelle Sudduth, executive director of CASA of the Eastern Panhandle.

West Virginia continues to lead the nation in rates of opioid overdoses, deaths due to overdoses, and number of children removed from their homes due to parental substance abuse. Currently, in Morgan, Berkeley, and Jefferson counties, there are roughly 600 children involved in cases before the courts due to situations of abuse or neglect.

The growing number of children in the child welfare system indicates a growing need for court appointed special advocates who can improve outcomes for all children before the courts and especially for older youth aged 13 through 17 who often will age out of the system without ever finding permanency.

Today, CASA-EP serves 47% of local children and youth who can benefit from a volunteer advocate. They hope to grow that significantly with the help of this national mentoring grant.

The national mentoring grant will enable CASA of the Eastern Panhandle volunteers to focus on advocating for the needs of at-risk and underserved youth. Volunteers will also mentor teens, helping them increase their level of connectivity with community and family, improve educational outcomes, and reach stable placements.

The goal is to grow a diverse base of new volunteers who have current or previous training and work experience in coaching, youth engagement, workforce development, teaching, job training or social work.

“This range of specialized expertise will allow advocates to ‘hit the ground running’ in their advocacy and mentorship work with youth in this community,” said Cari Lefeber, volunteer supervisor.

“This grant helps grow our efforts to reach youth who need to know they’re not alone. They’re often surprised to realize that there are others who know what they’ve gone through. Making those connections with experienced volunteers is a critical way we can grow this program and achieve better outcomes for teens in this community and our state,” said Sudduth.

The federal grant funds distributed through National CASA/GAL are provided by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, US Department of Justice, as authorized under the Victims of Child Abuse Act of 1990. In 2019, National CASA/GAL was awarded nearly $7 million in federal grants.

CASA-EP believes that every child who has experienced abuse or neglect deserves to have a dedicated advocate speaking up for their best interest in court, at school, and in our community. To accomplish this, CASA-EP educates and empowers diverse community volunteers who ensure that each child’s needs remain a priority in an overburdened child welfare system. Apply, donate, or learn more at www.mycasaep.org, call 304-263-5100, or find CASA of the Eastern Panhandle on Facebook.