Mental Health Officials Frustrated Over Cuts to CASA

December 17, 2012 Updated Dec 17, 2012 at 9:55 PM EDT

By Ed Reilly

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December 17, 2012 Updated Dec 17, 2012 at 9:55 PM EDT

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) As details emerge about Adam Lanza, the shooter in the Connecticut school killings, it is painting a picture of a 20-year who who had behavior and possible mental health issues.

The killings are also raising questions about how to deal with other troubled children nationwide.

Here in New York State, notifications were sent out on the same day as the mass-shooting advising that the State is cutting all funding for a program that helps abused and neglected children find placement as part of child welfare proceedings in Family Court.

The Court Appointed Special Advocates for children program (CASA) costs $60,000 per year in Erie County.

Two full-time staff members work with 40 trained volunteers to advocate on the behalf of children from birth to age 21.

While reporting to Family Court, CASA works with children who are removed from homes because of neglect, and physical or sexual abuse.

"Very often CASA is the last lifeline for a child," said CASA volunteer Marilyn Ballard.

As Family Court works to place the child in a permanent setting, CASA workers make sure the child's everyday needs are taken into account.

"How is school going for him? What does he need? What might be troubling him? Very often, these children don't have anyone to speak with, and they can't speak for themselves," adds Donna Perna, another CASA volunteer.

The CASA program is funded until the end of March 2013, but no new funding is in place beyond April 1st.

"This is about not disappointing a group of people who have known nothing but disappointment, heartbreak, and setback in their life. We are not going to settle for that, we are not going to take it,' commented Ken Houseknecht, Executive Director of the Mental Health Association of Erie County, Inc.

CASA officials say children in their program perform better in school, are less likely to have poor conduct, and more likely to be adopted.

Volunteers gave the example of one child who refused to take a math test.

After talking with CASA workers, it was discovered that the child did not have the required calculator - a simple request that had gone overlooked in the confusion of the child welfare proceedings.

"These children need someone just for them," added Donna Perna.