WILLIAMSTOWN, Ky. — A program advocating for the rights of abused children in Kentucky courts broke "numerous" state laws by allowing adult volunteers to work cases, even though they had not been given required background checks or adequate training, according to an audit.
The Kentucky CASA Networkrevealed the state program's audit's findings of the CASA program for Carroll, Grant and Owen Counties in a Dec. 22 letter to the local CASA Executive Director Julie Jernigan and board.
Judges appoint CASA-trained volunteers to report on what's in the best interest of children.
"Reviewers found numerous instances of egregious national CASA standards and Kentucky Revised Statute (KRS) violations," Kentucky CASA Network Board Chair Joe Schuler wrote in the letter. "Any and all volunteer and staff case activity and services provided by the program must cease immediately."
In the letter, Schuler identified specific violations of Kentucky law discovered by the Dec. 20 audit.
These are excerpts from his letter:
- Volunteers were not properly screened. Volunteer files did not include completed background checks required by KRS and CASA standards, including Child Abuse/Neglect Registry (CAN), Kentucky Administrative Office of Courts (AOC), and Adult Protection Registry background checks. Volunteer files included a First Advantage check that included social security number verification, national criminal records check and a Kentucky sex offender registry check. These checks were completed in early December 2021 after volunteers were active on cases. The national sex offender check was missing in the First Advantage check.
- Volunteers have not received appropriate training. When reviewing the volunteer files, there is no evidence of any volunteers having completed the National CASA pre-service training. The volunteer files were void of any completed worksheets, activities, notes from 1:1 discussions, or any other documents to support that training was conducted. The personnel file for Jordyn Johnson did contain completed worksheets from her guided learning training participation. There was no documentation of courtroom observation in any file.
- Staff are working cases after a volunteer has been appointed.
- There has been a failure to maintain confidentiality. All program board members, staff and volunteers should have signed confidentiality agreements or acknowledgment of confidentiality policy in their files. After a review of files, no confidentiality agreements exist.
Schuler wrote that his letter served notice of "egregious violations of National CASA standards, Kentucky statutes, and the program's commitment to the Membership Agreement.
"Specifically, it appears that the program has been "operating in such a manner that continuing membership in the KCN threatens the reputation or sustainability of the local programs,"" according to the letter.
The I-Team's story is the first time the audit findings have been shared with the communities served by the local CASA program.
"It was as bad as it sounds," former CASA Volunteer Coordinator Jordyn Johnson said.
Johnson said she began working for the local CASA program on Nov. 15.
She resigned on Dec. 15 after she said the executive director and board refused to take her concerns seriously.
"CASA was not doing what CASA was supposed to be doing," Johnson said.
On Dec. 16, the day after Johnson's resignation, District Court Judge Elizabeth Chandler asked Kentucky CASA Network to audit the local program, according to Schuler's letter.
"She raised concerns that the program was failing to meet compliance with KRS and National CASA standards," Schuler wrote.
On Dec. 20, Kentucky CASA Network audited the local CASA program.
Two days later, Kentucky CASA Network ordered the CASA program to immediately stop serving those three counties, according to Schuler.
"Significantly, there were no findings of activities that endangered children," Kentucky CASA Network Executive Director Andrea Bruns wrote in an email to the I-Team.
But Johnson said with so many violations there's no question children were impacted.
"Some were impacted because they weren't helped," Johnson said.
"I can't talk about it," former CASA Executive Director Julie Jernigan told the WCPO 9 I-Team. "I have a non-disclosure agreement."
Jernigan is an attorney in Grant County.
Jamie Baker, the former board chair for the local CASA program, also declined the I-Team's request for an interview.
On Jan. 18, the local CASA board notified the Kentucky CASA Network it was dissolving the program, according to Bruns.
"With the dissolution of the program and non-profit entity, we consider this matter closed and are now working with the newly merged program to support the work of our CASA volunteers for children, which is our highest priority," Bruns wrote in her email to the I-Team.
CASA services for Carroll, Grant and Owen Counties are now part of a much larger region based in Covington.
That region also includes Kenton, Campbell, Pendleton, and Harrison Counties.
Johnson said the previous CASA program, started in 2019, had eight volunteers.
Bruns said a CASA volunteer for Grant County is expected to be sworn in soon.
On March 24, the Grant County News reported on changes in the CASA program and efforts to recruit and train volunteers.
In that article, state and former local CASA leaders don't mention the alleged violations of state law and CASA standards or that the Kentucky CASA Network had forced the local program to stop activities and services.
“They let us know formally that their board have voted to dissolve, that they didn’t have the time to continue with the program,” Bruns told the paper.
Jernigan told the paper she had to leave the CASA program because she was running for judge.
“I resigned to run for office and the decision to close the office was made after that,” Jernigan told the paper.
State records show in Nov. 4, Jernigan filed to run for circuit judge for Carroll, Grant and Owen Counties.
On Dec. 22, the Kentucky CASA Network identified Jernigan as the local program's executive director.
On April 28, Jernigan filed to run for family court judge for Carroll, Grant and Owen Counties, according to state election records.
The I-Team requested additional CASA records relating to the program in Williamstown, including the audit and closure of that program.
The Kentucky CASA Network declined our request claiming CASA records aren't public.
The I-Team is appealing that decision.