With the swearing in of seven new volunteers Monday, McCracken County's Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program expanded into Ballard County and formed CASA of West Kentucky.
With that move, most of the Jackson Purchase area now is served by a CASA program, which assigns volunteers as advocates for children in cases of abuse, neglect and dependency.
"I think it's so important for every county to have CASA advocates," Program Director Stephanie Moss said. "All children deserve to have a voice in court."
Advocates are usually assigned to more severe or complicated cases, when a judge appoints a volunteer to routinely meet with and observe the children, also gathering information from caregivers, teachers and other relatives with the goal of ensuring the child's best interests.
"The trauma of them being removed and the uncertainty of where they're going to end up makes it important to have some eyes on the ground," Moss said.
She said last year, Ballard County had 39 cases of dependency, neglect or abuse, while McCracken had 326.
Between the two counties, there are only about 50 volunteers, some of whom can handle more than one case at a time, but most of whom handle one case each -- often involving multiple children.
Moss said the program hopes to expand into Livingston County in the future, but there's no clear indication when that might happen.
Graves, Fulton, Hickman and Carlisle counties are currently served by CASA of Graves County & Southwest KY, while Calloway and Marshall counties are served by CASA By the Lakes.
Moss asked anyone interested in volunteering to contact Child Watch at 270-443-1440, or visit the Child Watch website at childwatchcac.org.