Commentary: CASA of South Central Missouri addresses budget cuts

Matthew Evans
Executive Director CASA of South Central Missouri
The Rolla Daily News

Over the past several days, we have all been made aware of the dire state of the Missouri revenue stream; we acknowledge that difficult decisions had to be made as more than $448 million was cut from the state budget. CASA of South Central Missouri was saddened to learn about the recent cuts to the Department of Social Services (DSS) budget. CASA program staff and volunteers work closely with DSS, namely Children’s Division (CD), to advocate for abused and neglected children in the foster care system, and have recently learned that around 200 of the 300 state positions that will be lost to the cuts will come from DSS—67% from one state department. We are also deeply concerned about the millions of dollars cut that would have gone directly to the service of children and families.

CD serves around 20,000 children in foster care yearly, according to their annual reports, and has recently carried an average daily caseload of nearly 13,000 children, according to Fostering Court Improvement (collaborative data from CD and the Juvenile Office). The 25th Circuit, covering Maries, Phelps, Pulaski, and Texas Counties,served more than 670 children in care (in the top 5 circuits in the entire state), in addition to hundreds more through support services and resources.These numbers do not even include the parents, grandparents, foster parents, and partners that CD staff work with every day to ensure the safety of children and youth, and to help this vulnerable population achieve permanency. We are also worried about the adverse effects of COVID-19 on hotline calls over the past several months, and the inevitable increase in children who will come into care as a result of months of confinement with their caregivers and nobody to report abuse or neglect (e.g. teachers, counselors, doctors, pastors, etc.). Ultimately, service to this vulnerable population is at stake. 

The cuts to DSS and CD will undoubtedly trickle down and affect communication between child welfare parties and, most importantly, impact permanency outcomes for children and youth in foster care. As an organization that advocates for abused and neglected children, it is our duty now to seek clarity amid these cuts and to understand why children are the first to suffer losses during this budget crisis. We understand that the budget is complex and cuts have to be made, but are deeply concerned with how these cuts will affect children in foster care and child safety, stability, and permanency throughout the state. We also understand that further tough budget decisions may lie ahead, and hope that any future cuts will not impact Missouri children and families.

It is CASA’s mission to be a voice for children in foster care and we ask that you join us by lending your voice today. Reach out to your state legislators, our Governor, and others in authority to express your concern for our communities’ children and how our Children’s Division is integral in making a positive difference in the lives of our kids.  

If you have any questions or would like more information about CASA, Children’s Division, or how you can help make a difference in our community, please call us at 573-426-5437 or email info@casascmo.org.

Submitted by Matthew Evans is Executive Director of CASA of South Central Missouri.