Our History

ProKids Celebrates 40 Years of Service to

Hamilton County

ProKids has served thousands of abused and neglected children in Hamilton County since its founding in 1981, thanks to a passionate staff, energetic volunteers and a committed community.

In the years since ProKids began, we have focused on a simple and profound goal: to move children to safe, permanent and nurturing homes where they can thrive. In the child protection system, these children – who have been removed from their homes – are likely to be harmed by further abuse. They are less likely to get what they need in school or from medical or therapeutic services. And they are often placed in homes without their siblings.

ProKids identified these challenges and works every day to change these realities of foster care. With clear outcome measures, comprehensive training efforts and an ongoing commitment to these children, ProKids has exceeded its founders’ expectations.

In the mid-1970s a national movement began. Seeking intensive monitoring of the child welfare system, it grew from the realization that some children who had been removed from their homes because of abuse and neglect were ill-treated, or ignored, by the very institutions created to care for them.

A number of laws were enacted. The federal government established a requirement for Guardian Ad Litems (GALs) to represent children in the child protection systems and in juvenile court proceedings. In some communities GALs were paid, while in others they were volunteers. Rarely, however, were they trained to act as advocates in and out of the courtroom for the children they were appointed to represent.

The idea of training lay advocates for these children began with Judge David Soukup of Seattle, Washington. Judge Soukup recruited and trained community volunteers called Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs) to serve as voices for children involved in abuse and neglect court actions. In addition to appearing at hearings, these CASAs talked to teachers, caregivers, and relatives to ensure that the children received all needed services. In 1977 the first volunteer CASA/GAL program was started in Seattle.

ProKids was founded a few years later, in 1981, through the joint efforts of the Junior League of Cincinnati, the Cincinnati Bar Association and Hamilton County Juvenile Court. There were 25 CASA programs nationwide and ProKids was the third in Ohio.

In its first year, ProKids established a 12-member board and a staff of three. ProKids served over 100 children during its first year of existence.

In 1984, ProKids joined the newly formed National Court Appointed Special Advocates Association and gained recognition as one of the first CASA programs to receive United Way funding.

From 1985 to 1990, ProKids continued to expand. ProKids focused on securing permanency for children who were available for adoption thanks to funding from the Junior League.

In 1991, as a reaction to a newly passed law requiring abused and neglected children to have GAL representation, Hamilton County contracted with ProKids to provide the service. ProKids began operating a GAL division in addition to the CASA program and expanded its staff to 23.

During the period from 1992 to 1995, ProKids continued to serve almost all of the children who were subjects of abuse and neglect proceedings in Hamilton County Juvenile Court. The vast majority of children were served by staff social workers and attorneys. ProKids continued its CASA Volunteer program, serving about 40 children a year with these trained community members.

In 1996, Hamilton County Public Defender’s Commission transferred the GAL program to its own Public Defender office. ProKids renewed its focus on the role of the CASA Volunteer and the CASA Volunteer program.

Since 1996, this focus has led to tremendous growth and innovation.

Hamilton County Juvenile Court appoints ProKids CASA Volunteers to cases, expressing a desire to have a CASA Volunteer for every child. By 1998 and 1999, ProKids served 20% of children who were subjects of abuse and neglect proceedings in Hamilton County Juvenile Court. This proportion has continued to increase, although the number of children who need a CASA Volunteer continues to increase as well.

By 2011, ProKids CASA Volunteers served more than 500 children. At that time, Hamilton County Job and Family Services had more than 2,700 children the child protection system.

The Hamilton County Public Defender’s Office continues to receive government funds for its work. ProKids depends on donations by individuals and grants from local and national organizations.

ProKids had been located downtown on Melrose Place and on Kemper Lane. But years of growth and continued community support meant that ProKids needed an expanded space. In 2009, thanks to the generosity of the Manuel D. & Rhoda Mayerson Foundation, ProKids moved into a larger facility at Burnet Avenue and William Howard Taft Road. A former law office, this move enabled ProKids to expand its staff to support an increasing number of cases and a growing number of CASA Volunteers.

In 1996, ProKids went beyond simply measuring its activities in assessing what it does for children. By developing a strategic plan and expanding its Outcome Measures, ProKids demonstrated to volunteers and donors the impact of its work. These Outcome Measures have been used as examples by the United Way and have been presented at the state and national level to others in the child protection system.

The Outcome Measures have increased in number over time, identifying specific outcomes which demonstrate how a child can be safe, secure and thrive. ProKids has maintained throughout this time a 98% or better outcome in keeping ProKids children safe from abuse.

The current measures can be found here and are updated publicly each spring.

The greater need for CASA Volunteers led ProKids to redesign the CASA training program in 1999. CASA University allowed volunteers to access training year round. In its first year, CASA University graduated more than twice the number of CASA Volunteers than in 1998. ProKids staff members presented CASA University at the 2000 and 2001 National CASA Association Conference.

In 2003, The State of Ohio Attorney General recognized CASA University with its Promising Practice Award.

In 2016, CASA University was refined further to enable volunteers to spend less time in the classroom, more time preparing outside of class for discussion, and to take classes not only on weekdays but in the evening and on Saturdays.

CASA Volunteers also take advantage of an expanding menu of continuing education opportunities including targeted sessions on urgent issues such as mental health, the heroin epidemic and changes in the law.

Over the years, ProKids refined its support of CASA Volunteers, expanding the number of CASA Managers and staff attorneys to advocate alongside the volunteers in court. This partnership of passionate staff and committed volunteers means that ProKids children have the best possible advocacy in the child protection system.

Recognizing the greater knowledge and understanding of the effects of trauma on young children, in 2000 ProKids created Building Blocks to better serve children age birth to age 3 (later increased to age 6). Building Blocks provides additional continuing education annually to CASA Volunteers to better advocate for these young children. The program received the Ohio State Attorney General’s Promising Practice Award in 2004.

Since 2005, ProKids has emphasized the impact of domestic violence on children by offering targeted training called Steps to Peace. This ongoing effort, recognized in 2008 with the Ohio State Attorney General’s Promising Practice Award, provides additional continuing education annually to CASA Volunteers to recognize the signs of domestic violence in a home and educates them about the impact on children when they witness domestic violence.

In 2010, as the National CASA Association created Fostering Futures for older youth, ProKids designed the Launch program to support CASA Volunteers who serve children who may be aging out of the child protection system without a permanent home and need support as they become adults. The National CASA Association named ProKids as one of the 16 pilot sites nationwide to support these children.

ProKids developed Framing Futures, to support CASA Volunteers who work with elementary and middle school children.

A growing need for community support has drawn many donors and supporters to ProKids. In addition to providing funding, community members share the story of ProKids children and provide for many of their individual needs. For example:

  • Since 2008, Project Embrace has created hand-made blankets, caps, gloves and scarves for ProKids children.
  • Community volunteers provide books and birthday gifts throughout the year.
  • For several years, ProKids hosted a Resource Team to provides for immediate needs of families and ProKids children. This has developed into furthering collaboration with agencies like Sweet Cheeks for diapers, Neediest Kids of All for sports equipment and fees, summer camps, and other needs of children and their families and Bake Me Home for kitchen supplies.
  • At the holidays, the Cincinnati Bar Association and other community groups fill a holiday shop for volunteers to personally select gifts for their individual child. During the public health crisis of 2020, this evolved into a gift card drive so that volunteers could customize a holiday gift.
  • Since 2009, ProKids has hosted a Friends of Children breakfast event that draws more than 600 supporters to learn about the organization’s mission and to make financial donations to continue its work. It evolved in 2020, due to public health concerns, to become the Call for Community.
  • From 2011 to 2019, the ProKids Young Professionals (PKYP) began to mobilize community members who wanted to learn about ProKids and share its mission while raising funds for specific efforts like back-to-school supplies.
  • From 1996 to 2019, The Run for Kids or Superhero Run for Kids, raised thousands of dollars  thanks to the leadership of the Cincinnati Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Section.
  • In 2012, ProKids received a grant enabling it to begin developing a virtual academy to assist child protection professionals and volunteers to learn about best practices.
  • In 2015, ProKids received its first endowment, a financial gift which allows the agency to focus on growing a sustainable future and inspired additional endowment activity.
  • The ProKids Board of Trustees approved the formation of the Inclusion and Diversity Committee in 2010, renaming it as the Diversity Equity and Inclusion Committee a few years later. It developed the ongoing strategies that are part of ProKids commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion within ProKids and in our community.
  • In 2019, ProKids created an even more comprehensive CASA University, designed around the needs of adult learners and created to move more trainees through the complete training program to more quickly serve our children.
  • In 2020, CASA University and the introductory volunteer Snapshot went virtual to comply with public health restrictions.

There are many ways that community members become a part of ProKids. Everyone can make a difference not only for abused and neglected children, but for our entire community.

Some of the ways to be a part of ProKids include:

For more about how you can be a part of the exciting future of ProKids, which builds on a past of passion and commitment, you can also call us at 513-281-2000.