Martha Stone, executive director of the Center for Children’s Advocacy, worries about who will speak up for abused, homeless, and neglected children in the state if the organization’s budget situation doesn’t improve.
In a phone interview last week, Stone said the Center for Children’s Advocacy is one of eight legal aid organizations in the state that receives funding from a program called IOLTA, for Interest On Lawyers’ Trust Accounts. The bulk of the program’s money comes from escrow accounts tied to real estate transactions.
Now that the real estate market has tanked, the amount of money available from the program to legal aid groups statewide is dropping some $10 million this coming year, a full 50 percent.
“It is a crisis for the organization, but more importantly it is a crisis for the children that we serve,” Stone said.
The nine lawyers in Stone’s organization individually serve 500 children a year, not to mention the thousands of children it represents in lawsuits addressing systemic problems in the child welfare system.
What does this mean?
“It means potential layoffs of staff and cutting back on our publications that we distribute to kids,” Stone said. “It also means no salary raises for staff.”
The Bar Foundation, which distributes the IOLTA money to the legal aid groups, took in $20 million to distribute to legal aid agencies in 2007. That number has suddenly shrunk to $8 million for 2008. It is projected to shrink to $4 million in 2009.
“I don’t know of any nonprofit sector that’s been hit as badly” as legal aid by the economic meltdown, Sandy Klebanoff, executive director of the Bar Foundation, said in an October interview with the New Haven Independent.
Stone whose budget is made up of IOLTA funds, foundation grants and individual contributions said she expects the organizations next biggest funding source may also be on the decline. She said the foundation grants the organization receives may also decrease as the economy continues to slow, which is why she is making a plea to individual donors.
“Instead of giving Uncle Bob that necktie he doesn’t need we would like to see people giving to local nonprofits,” Stone said.
“One person at a time can save one child at a time,” Stone said.
She said the organization is also seeking gift certificates to give to the abused, homeless, and neglected children it serves.
To make a individual donation Stone said you can donate online at their Web site or send a check to the: Center for Children’s Advocacy, University of Connecticut School of Law, 65 Elizabeth Street, Hartford, CT 06105.