Sedgwick Co. Judge praises CASA, says they're important for foster children

SEDGWICK COUNTY, Kan. (KSNW) - Overburdened is how a local Wichita judge sees the Department of Children and Families.

Because of that, he says sometimes the needs of foster children aren't being met.

"The frustration I have was is that we simply aren't preparing these cases properly. Primarily, because we don't have enough workers," said Judge Kevin Smith, 18th Judicial District.

Judge Smith says overcrowded court dockets turn into overloaded caseworkers.

"You have a lot of case workers that already don't have enough time, and now, they have 1/3 less time because they have to cover for all these open positions."

He sees child in need of care cases get drawn out sometimes from 12 months to six years.

In that time, he says the child can be forgotten. So, he is turning to Court Appointed Special Advocates, like Ashley Thorne, a judge's extra set of eyes and ears.

"At times, we will find that maybe paperwork isn't actually submitted on time, and we will help that caseworker make sure they get that paperwork submitted," says Thorne.

According to DCF in the 2016-2017 school year, only 50 percent of children in the system graduated the 12th grade.

If they have a CASA, Thorne says they graduate 85 percent of the time. Smith believes CASA is a legitimate solution.

"Last week, for example, I appointed five in my one docket, and they had just trained 15," says Smith.

But Judge Smith is quick to point out that more CASA workers are needed.

"Right now, we are only serving 8 percent of the 1,200 children in Sedgwick County," says Thorne.

Smith and Thorne are going to events like the pastors luncheon on Tuesday to make others aware of the resource that is free to the child.

"Ideally now, I think that is we had enough volunteers for every single case from the very beginning that would be ideal," Smith says.

Thorne says if less than one percent of Wichitans signed up to become a CASA, all 1,200 foster children in Sedgwick County could have an advocate.

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