Mental Health Association of Erie County Calls on New York State to Reconsider Its Ill-Timed Decision to Eliminate Funding for a Program Serving At-Risk Youth

December 21, 2012

BUFFALO, NY--(Marketwire - Dec 21, 2012) - The Mental Health Association of Erie County (MHA) is Calling on New York State to Reconsider Its Ill-Timed Decision to Eliminate Funding for Its Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) Program. MHA Officials Learned of the Funding Cut on Friday, Dec. 14, Just Hours After a Gunman Opened Fire Inside a Connecticut Elementary School.

"At a time when people are calling for increased funding and a renewed focus on mental health needs, the state is cutting all funding for this program, and that's just wrong," said Ken Houseknecht, executive director for the MHA. "CASA is a life-saving program for at-risk and troubled children. We were notified of this decision on the same day 20 children and six adults were murdered. Is anybody else struck by the terrible irony of this?"

CASA is a program provided locally by the MHA for children up to age 21 in various situations within the family court system. Through two staff members and more than 40 professionally trained volunteers, the association acts as advocates for children who have been removed from their homes and placed in foster care due to abuse and neglect.

In Erie County, more than 160 children are currently being assisted through the program, and officials say they are only scratching the surface of the need. There are nearly 1,000 children in foster care in the county right now, and each year 1,500-2,000 abuse and neglect petitions are filed.

"If we don't replace the $60,000 in state funding by April 1, 2013, on top of all the other funds we need to generate, the CASA program goes away," Houseknecht said. "It's time to take off the gloves and fight for the kids this program helps."

Erie County was one of dozens of CASA Programs statewide, three of which are affiliated with MHA chapters in New York State, who learned they are losing funding provided through the Office of Court Administration, which is currently dealing with a $1.2 million budget shortfall. The CASA funding cut totals approximately $800,000 statewide.

"We are reaching out to elected officials, foundations, corporate and private donors, civic and church groups, and other supporters to fight to restore or replace the lost funding to keep this vital program alive," Houseknecht said.

For more than 50 years, the Mental Health Association of Erie County, Inc. has promoted mental health and wellness in our community and supported individuals and families who are challenged by mental illness.

The Mental Health Association of Erie County, Inc. provides numerous programs and services for children, adults and families throughout Erie County. For more information visit www.eriemha.org, follow MHA on Twitter @MHAofErieCo or like MHA on Facebook.