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Guest column | Linda A. Osmundson

Budget cuts threaten CASA's neutral ground for families in crisis

Every day I read about yet another woman or child beaten or killed by a violent abuser. The effects of domestic violence on families continue to make headlines.

What doesn't make headlines is the effects of the economy on CASA (Community Action Stops Abuse) in St. Petersburg, for programs that are sorely needed. We have only 30 shelter beds. When I called our crisis line, (727) 895-4912, there were 35 shelter residents and three pending. Families share beds, sleep on couches and stay longer or return to an abuser because they cannot find affordable housing or a job.

CASA faces a 26 percent cut in funds from United Way, a 30 percent cut from the City of St. Petersburg and more than a 50 percent cut from the county government. Bread-and-butter community donations are down.

We eliminated seven paid positions. Leadership staff is taking furloughs and no one received a raise. We reduced our office cleaning service by half. We always manage money carefully, use volunteers whenever possible and depend on donated food and supplies. There isn't much else to cut except programs.

One vital program is CASA's Visitation Center. When separated parents fight about visiting children and the court is concerned about the safety of the child, the court orders supervised visits at CASA.

CASA provides about 1,200 supervised visits for 80 families. About 69 percent of the families are referred by the courts because of domestic violence histories. The remaining 31 percent have mental health problems, addictions and other problems. Visitation Center staff makes the arrangements for visits with each parent so the parents do not fight in front of the children.

CASA saves the lives of children and parents by offering a safe, fun place for children to establish a healthy relationship with their nonresidential parent in a neutral setting. A police officer keeps the peace.

CASA's Visitation Center reduces the cost of law enforcement called to settle "he said, she said" arguments over children. We provide peace of mind for judges who make decisions between warring parents and the safety of the child.

Pinellas County funded CASA's Visitation Center for more than 10 years. This year the county's reduced funds were all directed for the homeless. Funds for the Visitation Center were eliminated.

We fear for the lives of children with no supervised, safe place to visit their nonresidential parent. We are afraid that parents will resume fighting in front of their children.

The CASA Visitation Center and other small, essential programs will disappear if the community does not step forward and vote with their checkbooks to keep us open. This is something positive we can do to help our community and keep children and their families safe.

Linda A. Osmundson is executive director of Community Action Stops Abuse located in St. Petersburg. Donations may be mailed to CASA, P.O. Box 414, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.

Budget cuts threaten CASA's neutral ground for families in crisis 10/14/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 14, 2009 5:59pm]
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