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Courtroom guardians in Fauquier face fund shortage

Thursday, Jul. 17 | By Julie Taylor
For a victimized child, a trip through Fauquier's court system can be a confusing, terrifying ordeal.

Court Appointed Special Advocates, a group commonly referred to as CASA, has worked with children in Fauquier courts since 2012, but a lack of funds may force them to stop.

Without the help of Fauquier businesses and individuals, CASA will have to deny help to victimized children in the county unless there's a change—in the amount of $130,500 a year.

Karen Keys-Gamarra is a guardian ad litem for the surrounding areas. Her primary responsibility is to represent children in court.

"I found CASA's support to be invaluable," she said. "There's a lot of ground investigation-wise that needs to be covered... the guardian ad litem and CASA can become a well-balanced team."

Charlyn Hasson-Brown, the CEO of the regional CASA association, said that in Fauquier alone, 571 referral calls were placed last year on the premise that a child was living in a sub-standard lifestyle.

Of that number, 53 children—and this number doesn't include open cases--went through court last year based on evidence found through the referral calls.

Since CASA opened up to Fauquier in 2012, it has served 227 families, but the reception as well as continuation has been quieter than most service groups.

This is mainly due to the private nature of each case, since those involved are minors.

"Whether they were beaten, burned, had their bones broken..." Hasson-Brown trailed off, wanting to avoid talking about specific cases. "If we could show those [children] like the commercials--like they have for the pets; we have children who live like that but we can't show them."

Child abuse is not a politically hot-button issue for people for a few reasons, said Hasson-Brown.

"Because the children have been abused, their identity and stories are not open to the public, and people are not aware of how serious they are."

Sadly, some places only contribute when it makes themselves look good.

"Corporations and individuals prefer to help in a way they can publicly help," said Hasson-Brown. "Major corporations typically do health, arts, education, homelessness... but abuse is sort of everybody's dirty little secret."

She said that sponsoring a child is quite attainable for a business, organization, groups of friends, or individuals. It takes $1,500 for a child to be served by an advocate for one year.

CASA runs solely on donations and grants, but the grants are becoming increasingly insufficient to keep the program running.

The Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, or “Freddie Mac,” is pulling support this year, leaving a 6-percent hole that needs to somehow be filled.

In addition to financial donations, they also need community members to step up as volunteers. CASA provides all the training necessary to help guide victimized children through the intimidating court process.

Judges appoint the volunteers to watch over and speak on behalf of abused and neglected children. For many, the advocate will be the only adult who has a constant presence throughout their trials.

The average time it takes to volunteer varies between four to 10 hours a month per child.

"If we could literally see and hear and know the fear that some children go to bed with at night, if we could feel it and see it in each of these children, there isn't any one of us who wouldn't take them out of it or protect them," said Hasson-Brown.

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