ROCHESTER — An agency that helps abused and neglected children during court processes says it must turn away half of its Strafford County cases due to a shortage of people willing to serve as volunteer advocates.

For those already serving as volunteer advocates with Court Appointed Special Advocates of New Hampshire (CASA), it’s a heartbreaking number.

“(Some of the kids) don’t have anyone in their life who has been with them consistently,” said Beth Lynch, a retired Dover Middle School science teacher who is a CASA advocate for two adolescent brothers. “I never thought I’d get the connection I do with the boys. To be a CASA for my boys is letting them know you’re not going to leave them.”

CASA’s volunteer advocates work to ensure a child’s wishes, needs and concerns remain front and center during cases in local family courts. The job, according to the nonprofit agency, involves visiting the child, their family, teachers and others to support the child and understand their best interests, as well as to make recommendations directly to the court.

CASA estimates its advocacy helps save the state at least $3 million a year in legal expenses and travel fees.

Last year, CASA advocated for more than 1,400 children across the state but couldn’t serve roughly 250 others due to a shortage of advocates, according to CASA. Those 250 unserved children represented roughly 35 percent of CASA’s statewide cases.

In Strafford County, CASA said it could only represent 45 of the 99 children the courts asked it to assist last year, with most of the unanswered cases coming out of Rochester District Court. The 44 children who weren’t accepted represented nearly a fifth of the statewide figure, in a county whose population just exceeds that of the city of Manchester alone.

Comparatively, CASA was able to accept 87 percent of its cases in Rockingham County.

“We turned down about 50 percent, which is, my god, ridiculous,” said CASA Program Director Jonelle Gaffney. “Turning down cases is so difficult for us to do. Each one of these cases has children attached to them who have experienced trauma and they need us. I’d like to make a dent in that number. We can do it. We just need the advocates.”

One factor for the discrepancy between Strafford and Rockingham, according to CASA, is the fact Rockingham has nearly three times the number of advocates Strafford has (89 to 32). That said, Gaffney said it’s common for advocates to accept cases in different counties, which she said Rye resident Bob Herold does when he works with children in Rochester District Court.

Roughly 75 percent of CASA’s cases statewide involve either the opioid crisis or a substance use disorder, while the prevalence of co-occurring domestic violence is increasing, according to Gaffney. Other commonalities include mental health issues, homelessness and poverty, although Gaffney stressed each child and case are individual and unique despite their common threads.

“There’s nothing unique about the city of Rochester that makes it unique and unlike other cities,” Gaffney said when asked why Rochester has one of the state’s greatest needs for volunteer advocates. “But the need is a lot higher than most, and that’s really the difference and the problem here. We got five new cases (this past week). That’s pretty steady and significant. This week is no different.”

Due to the increased demand for assistance, CASA recently hired a third program manager to work out of its office in Dover. Gaffney said it's the first time CASA has increased its program management staff in Dover in the agency's 29 years of existence.

CASA is also holding an upcoming training in Dover for individuals interested in helping victimized children in the Granite State. More information about the Nov. 1 training and CASA in general can be found at, while individuals interesting in becoming advocates can submit applications at 

At their core, CASA’s volunteer advocates just need to be compassionate and empathetic for the children and their families, according to Linda Armirotto, a Barrington resident and an advocate for eight years. The position doesn’t ask advocates to act like lawyers or therapists, something Lynch stressed while describing herself as a layperson with no legal training. New advocates start with a single case and typically put in 10 to 15 hours a month over a year or two, and they take on additional cases if they’re comfortable doing so.

Armirotto typically works on no more than three cases at a time, while Lynch has only worked on a single case in her five years of being an advocate due to the complexity of her boys’ situations. Just as her boys want her to stay in their lives, Lynch said she looks forward to seeing them through the process, their out-of-home placements and, one day, getting to enjoy adult dinners with them and attending their weddings.

“You won’t know the kind of relationship you’ll have with your child, and it might shock you in ways that you didn’t realize,” said Lynch.

Amirotto and Lynch said individuals like themselves – an empty nester and a retired teacher, respectively – are perfect fits for the role due to their experiences. They said they hope one day there won't be a need for CASA because increases in prevention and wraparound services can address issues at their root causes. In the meantime, due to the limited availability of those things across the state, they said they're honored to play a vital role.

“It’s probably the most rewarding work I’ve ever done,” said Armirotto. “People will say to me all the time, ‘I don’t know how you do it because it’s just so sad.’ Well, it is sad. The alternative for me is to put my head into the sand and not do anything, and that doesn’t work for me either.”