by Emily Ostrowski
This year our Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Program is celebrating its 35 year anniversary. We are incredibly proud of all the work our volunteers have done for children in the community through this program. In honor of this, we’d like to take some time to look back at the very beginnings of the CASA Program, and why it remains a vital resource to advocate for children.
The National CASA Program was started by King County Superior Court Judge David Soukup in 1977. During his time on the bench in juvenile court, Judge Soukup became frustrated that during cases there was no one in the courtroom whose sole job was to provide a voice for children, and from his concerns the idea for CASA grew. “It struck me that it might be possible to recruit and train volunteers to investigate a child’s case so they could provide a voice for the child in those proceedings, proceedings which could affect their whole lives,” said Soukup.
The CASA Program is based on a fundamental belief that every child has a right to a safe, permanent, loving home. CASA volunteers go about working towards that goal by doing thorough investigations on behalf of each child they represent. They have regular visits with the children they are assigned to, as well as their parents, mental health and medical professionals, teachers, neighbors, and law enforcement to fully understand each child’s situation and needs. They advocate and speak on behalf of children in the courtroom and throughout the entire legal process, voicing concerns and making recommendations to the court about what is in the best interest of each child. CASA volunteers stay in regular contact with the child throughout the duration of the case, ensuring that no child is ever forgotten. It is a challenging, but rewarding endeavour, and one that is absolutely essential to providing the best outcomes for children in the foster care system.
CASA would not exist and be able to do the work it does without the generosity of many local and national sponsors and grantors. Nationally, The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention is the largest source of CASA Association funding. Additionally, National CASA is supported by such organizations as Microsoft, Walmart, and the American Legion Child Welfare Foundation, among others.
Locally, our Clark County CASA Program has enjoyed the support of many community sponsors, and in the last few years has received funding from organizations and groups such as:
Creative Metal Arts Guild
DA Bentley Construction
Local Independent Charities of America
Washington State CASA
West Linn High School Sunshine Fund
Salmon Creek Kiwanis
Vancouver USA H.O.G. Chapter #5409
These grants and donations are essential to helping both National CASA and the CASA Program of YWCA Clark County do the invaluable work of advocating for children in the legal system. Research shows that children who have a CASA volunteer working their case are more likely to be adopted, and less likely to spend time in long-term foster care or re-enter foster care. In fact, children in the foster care system without a CASA volunteer spend, on average, eight months longer in foster care than those who do have a CASA advocating for them. Having a CASA is particularly helpful in finding a permanent living situation for children of color, who are disproportionately over-represented in the foster care system (specifically African American and Native American children).
The benefits of having a CASA extend far beyond time spent in the foster care system. Children who are appointed a CASA have the advantage of having a stable adult presence who spends significant amounts of time with them while going through the court process. Because of the increase in stability and attention, both children and parents of children who are assigned a CASA receive access to more services. Children who work with a CASA are also more likely to perform better in school, receive higher grades, and have a lower tendency to be reported for poor conduct or be expelled.
The National CASA Program reports that last year nearly 76,000 CASA volunteers advocated for more than 251,000 children in the foster care system. Currently in Clark County, CASAs are advocating for 630 children in the system. Each of these children are infinitely better served during these trying times by having a CASA who is advocating solely on their behalf. In the 35 years CASA has been serving our community, thousands of children and families have been helped by their services. YWCA Clark County is proud to have been a part of that, and we look forward to another 35 years of advocating for every child to have a right to a safe, permanent, loving home.
Stay tuned and check our blog regularly in the next several weeks as we continue to honor and celebrate 35 years of CASA. We’ll be interviewing several of CASA’s incredible and dedicated volunteers, and learning first hand about the rewards and challenges of being an advocate for children in the court system.