What is CASA?

Appointed by the court, CASA volunteers advocate for the best interest of children who have come into the dependency system as a result of abuse, neglect, or abandonment. Information and recommendations provided by the CASA volunteer assist the court in making crucial decisions about the child’s immediate needs and long-term permanency.

Volunteers are asked to commit to at least 2 years with the program so they can provide consistency for the child and stay with the case until the child is with returned safely to their parents or placed in a safe, permanent home. For many children, their CASA volunteer will be the one constant adult presence in their lives.

History

In 1977, a Seattle juvenile court judge concerned about making drastic decisions with insufficient information conceived the idea of citizen volunteers speaking up for the best interests of abused and neglected children in the courtroom. The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) developed guidelines to help the juvenile justice system protect the child’s right to a safe, permanent family. The committee coined the umbrella term “Court Appointed Special Advocate” – CASA – denoting any volunteer following a clearly defined role as a friend of the court.

From that first program has grown a network of nearly 1,000 CASA and guardian ad litem programs that are recruiting, training and supporting volunteers in 49 states and the District of Columbia.

The Clark County CASA program was established January 1982 as the “Guardian ad Litem Project”. The first volunteer CASA started advocating for children in February of that same year. The “Guardian ad Litem Project” eventually was renamed Clark County CASA and was supported by YWCA Clark County. The relationship between the CASA Program and YWCA Clark County thrived and continues today.

CASA/GAL Member Associations

The Clark County CASA Program is accredited by the National CASA/GAL Association and has received grant funds to support our local program activities. Our program is also a member of two state organizations – Washington CASA Association and the Washington Association of Child Advocate Programs. Membership in these organizations provides important networking opportunities with local programs across the county to share ideas and provide support as we advocate for the children in our communities.

Mission

Our mission is to provide quality advocacy in the best interest of each child in dependency and support permanency in a timely manner served by highly-trained volunteer advocates so the children we represent may thrive in a safe, permanent home as soon as possible.

Commitment to Diversity

Our program is committed to training culturally competent volunteers and staff to ensure we support the cultural needs of the children in Clark County. One of our key goals is to maintain a volunteer base that reflects the diversity of the children we serve and to be an inclusive organization that values the viewpoints and life experiences of each volunteer.

How we Serve LGBTQ+ Youth in Foster Care

LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and/or questioning) youth are over-represented in the foster care system as many have faced rejection and displacement at the hands of their families of origin (Williams Institute and RISE, 2013). One recent study estimates nearly 20% of youth in foster care identify as LGBTQ. CASA provides advocacy in a manner that recognizes the possibility that any youth may be LGBTQ. When the foster youth identifies as LGBT or Q, CASA’s role is to listen to them and ensure that they have culturally competent access to the best care, advocacy, and services possible.

Inclusive Pride FlagFoster children have the right to be protected from abuse and neglect. They have the right to be treated fairly and equally, whatever their gender, gender expression, race, religion, ethnicity, national origin, disability, medical needs, or sexual orientation.  They also have the right to be addressed by their chosen gender pronouns. As CASA volunteers, part of our mission is to assist in securing a safe, permanent and nurturing home for every child in foster care, including those who identify as LGBTQ. Children in foster care are the most vulnerable population; those who also identify as LGBTQ face even greater risks and challenges on a daily basis.

CASA advocates for the rights of LGBTQ youth, including that:

  • LGBTQ youth have a right to express their sexual orientation and gender identity
  • LGBTQ youth have a right to be protected from emotional and physical harm in their child welfare placements
  • Child welfare professionals appropriately monitor and supervise an LGBTQ youth’s placement for discrimination and maltreatment
  • LGBTQ youth in the child welfare system have a right to receive appropriate medical and mental health care and other supportive services
  • LGBTQ foster youth have a right to be treated equally and without discrimination
  • LGBTQ youth in child welfare placements have a right not to participate in religious activities that condemn LGBTQ people