BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Erie County lost key funding for at-risk children the same day of the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. The "Casa" program helped 160 abused and neglected kids this year alone.
As a child, Aishah Rudoph was one of the faces of at-risk youth. But when her mother gave up her parental rights, Rudoph had a mentor looking out for her. She stayed out of trouble, got adopted and now is close to graduating from college. Her brothers didn't fare as well.
"They end up in the system and being locked up in prison, when I feel like if they had a Casa worker, or somebody, they wouldn't be there," Rudoph said. "They wouldn't be going through what they're going through right now because somebody shows they care."
Casa workers are "court-appointed special advocates." They work with neglected and abused children, giving them a voice in family court and outside of court, someone to trust, offering stability to a child during turbulent times.
But on Friday, New York State cut funding to its Casa programs, meaning 160 at-risk children in Erie County won't receive that same help next year. That is something Rudoph, now a Casa intern, finds heartbreaking.
"It's just not fair that they would take something away from a child that was dealt a bad hand in life. This program does so much for these kids," Rudoph said.
Erie County's Casa program costs $60,000 a year to run. Workers see it as an investment to avoid paying $40,000 to $50,000 a year it costs to lock someone up in jail.
Ken Houseknecht of the Mental Health Association said, "Or we can wait until their life comes off the rail and we as a society can pick up the pieces, which is a tragedy from a human standpoint and a tragedy from an economic standpoint."
Casa workers see it as a tragedy that children will no longer receive help.
"Either we're going to get this money back from New York State, or hopefully people who are listening to this are going to hear this and say, you know what, this is not acceptable," Houseknecht said.
The Erie County Casa program runs with two employees and 40 unpaid volunteers. Workers say the $60,000 budget is small considering the number of families impacted.
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