CASA

Foster care in the news: CASA edition

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  1. Children’s voices heard through CASA volunteers. Are you passionate about what you do? Are you unafraid to ruffle feathers to defend what you believe? Do you voluntarily invest your time, energy and countless car miles in pursuit of justice?
    CASA of Central Virginia volunteer Sunny Simone’s answers would be, yes, yes and I do.
  2. CASA of Union County is changing lives, one child at a time. CASA volunteers unselfishly dedicate their time, energy and, most important, their heart, to Union County’s abused and neglected children currently in foster care. Each of these 405 children deserves to have their voices heard. CASAs, who work with only the child’s best interests in mind, advocate on behalf of each child — whether it be educational, medical, emotional or beyond
  3. First CASA Black Tie affair comes to Richmond. When abused or neglected children are moved by court order to group or foster homes overseen by the state social and legal agencies, they can get lost in these sometimes overburdened systems.As an extra layer of protection, judges appoint “special advocates” who volunteer to watch over individual cases.For many abused children, their count-appointed special advocate (CASA volunteer) will be the one constant adult presence in their lives.
  4. CASA volunteers serve youth in the court system. Sometimes, children get swept into Ravalli County’s justice system through no action of their own, in cases that may involve abuse, neglect, or even exploitation. Others may have been declared “delinquent.”
  5. My journey from pain and fear to love and hope. I was 6 and my sister was 4 when we were taken away from our mom. It was an awful time. We were terrified. But there was one person who stood by us through all the upheaval. She was there for us every time we needed her, making sure we were OK.Her name was Miss Belle. She was our CASA volunteer.
  6. Honoring my grandfather’s memory through CASA. When my sister-in-law told me about a volunteer opportunity with CASA advocating on behalf of children in need, I knew that was how I wanted to give back. I feel in a way I honor my grandfather’s memory through my work with these children.
  7. “Being a CASA is my heart’s work.” When Tammy first heard about the CASA cause while watching an episode of the Dr. Phil Show in 2009, she knew it was for her.
  8. Foster children stories. The followings stories are real and came from the book “Someone There For Me” published by the CWLA Press and edited by National Court Appointed Special Advocate Association. The pictures are royalty free images used to protect the real identity of the foster children.
  9. “Our CASA was our voice.” I believe my focus and my worldview—that it is not the falling that matters, but the rising every time we fall—is in large part due to the attention that my siblings and I received from our CASA volunteer.
  10. “I am the reason you should never give up on a child.” I’d like to share with you a little of how CASA’s powerful commitment to children has influenced my life.

Want more info on becoming a CASA? Check here.

Redeeming her own past by training CASAs

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Continuing our series about the CASA program, today’s post is about one woman who trains CASAs. As part of their commitment, CASAs agree to pursue continuing education and this woman teaches a class that applies toward that. You can read our other posts about being a CASA here and here

“I am a survivor of the child pornography industry.”

This is how Elizabeth “Libby” Buchanan introduces herself to the audiences she teaches as a CASA trainer. And it’s as difficult to hear as it is to say. She has learned her students must be forewarned about her intro, because if they aren’t, they won’t hear anything she says for the next five minutes. And they need to be tuned in for every minute of her presentation. Even though she herself was never in the foster care system, because of her traumatic childhood, she has valuable insights into the feelings of the children these volunteers will be serving.

When Libby first heard about the CASA program, she knew she wanted to get involved, but she also knew she wouldn’t be able to handle being in courtrooms with perpetrators of violence and neglect against children. It would be too painful, bring back too many memories. CASAs are required as part of their commitment to get annual training, so Libby’s husband suggested she teach a class about helping CASAs understand where the kids in the system are coming from, as part of that continuing education. A friend who worked as a CASA approached her manager, who loved the idea, and Libby stepped into the classroom.

Libby organizes her presentation around helping CASAs understand how the children they’ll be working with are processing their situations. Most CASAs are not alumni of the foster care system. And since they are volunteering their services on behalf of these children, they expect gratitude. “I remind them that these kids are not going to be grateful for their assistance.” They’ve been through so much trauma, been disappointed by so many adults in their lives. A CASA is just one more stranger who gets a say in that child’s life. But, while the youngster may not ever appreciate a CASAs services, that CASA is absolutely essential. He may well be the only consistent adult in that child’s life.

She teaches the CASAs about normalizing, explaining that kids coming from abusive homes need to have “normal” redefined, because they see their abuse and neglect as normal. Often, they’ve never known anything else. They don’t realize their situation is abnormal until they’re taken out of it. “That’s hard for CASAs to understand,” Libby says, noting that children’s desire to return to an abusive situation is similar to the Stockholm Syndrome—an attitude as baffling to caseworkers and others charged with the care of the child as the syndrome is to the public. But the parent-child connection is a powerful one. And often, the child blames himself for being taken away.

She also explains that CASAs must set expectations for proper behavior and grooming for situations like appearing before a judge. And they must tell the child exactly what’s going to happen, what the child can expect. “Unpredictability is the scariest thing in these kids lives,” Libby relates. And often, they’re jerked around from one place to another without any explanation, which makes them feel confused and frightened, and adds to an already traumatic situation.

Another key component of her presentation is stressing the importance of keeping siblings together. Children have already been removed from their parents; their siblings are their last connection to the identity they know. Take away these remaining kin, and they feel utterly alone and abandoned. Libby acknowledges that it’s not always possible to keep siblings together, but she wants CASAs to know that this should be a top priority.

Because Libby speaks out of her experience, teaching is difficult. In fact, at first, she was terrified. “I made lots of people cry because it was so hard and they could tell.” But over time, she has found teaching redemptive. “I enjoy being a help to those who will be so helpful to [the children] assigned to them.”

Libby Buchanan is a Christian writer, teacher, speaker, mother and wife. You can read more about her at her website, libbybuchanan.com

Giving back by being a CASA

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When Ben Crouch retired, he decided he wanted to give back to his community. He found no shortage of options, but he narrowed the choices down by eliminating outlets that involved physical labor, like Habitat for Humanity. “I didn’t want to injure my hands—I’m a bluegrass guitar player!” he says with a chuckle. When he heard about the CASA program, he thought his background as a criminologist might lend itself to that role. He had taught related courses, had a PhD in sociology, and knew something about the function of courts in dealing with problems in society.

He went through the requisite 30 hours of training (and every year he completes a requisite 12 hours of training, as part of which he attends a victimization conference and other local offerings) and then waited to be matched. He initially thought he’d want to work with a young girl. Older children were a bit intimidating and he’d raised two girls, so he figured he knew a little something about them. However, when the agency called, they presented him with a case for a 15-year-old boy who’d been in the foster care system since he was 8 years old. The teen had been in three high schools in one calendar year and had been represented by several different social workers. It was a moment of decision for Ben. He was nervous about representing an older boy. But in the end, he reminded himself that he’d pursued this role because children need an advocate in court. So he agreed to take the case.

When he first began getting to know his charge (we’ll call him Jason), the teen lived in a residential facility because of behavior issues, and they corresponded regularly by snail mail. However, Ben successfully advocated for moving Jason from the residential facility to a foster home—and the responses to his letters stopped. So the teen is in a better place, but Ben doesn’t have nearly as much contact with him.

He does his best by him, though. He says he feels like an uncle toward Jason. He tries to see him once a month, taking him out to eat wherever he wants to go and trying to help the him think realistically. For example, when Jason talks about wanting to get an expensive car, Ben reminds him that pricey rides require good jobs. He talks to the young man’s foster father two or three times a month to check in and make suggestions for extra-curricular activities. And he regularly checks in with Jason’s teachers and counselors, to gather information that will go into the report he presents to the judge every six months, recommending what he feels is the best course of action.

Given his age, the teen will likely be in care until he ages out at 21. Older youth are notoriously hard to place for adoption. So Ben will work to keep him in a good foster home and encourage him to stay in school. He’s been the Jason’s CASA for two-and-half-years and estimates he’s invested 150 hours into the case so far. Despite the fact that permanency is unlikely for this youth, and therefore his case could last another six years, Ben is committed to staying the course with him. “I know the most about this child,” he says. “I hope he’s as prepared as possible to make a life, and a living.”

If you’re interested in being a CASA and making a change in a young person’s life, email us at info@DC127.org and we’ll make sure you get connected. Also, read our post about becoming a CASA.

Help a child in foster care: Become a CASA

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So you want to get involved with foster care, but you’re not in a place to provide a  home for a child in the system right now. And while your heart breaks for these kids and you want to do something for them, maybe you find the idea of mentoring a teenager—or even a first-grader—a little intimidating. There’s another option for you to have considerable impact on the life of a child in foster care: Become a court-appointed special advocate, or a CASA. These volunteers are appointed by a judge to present information in court on behalf of a child in foster care.

Nearly 40 years ago, a judge in Seattle decided he was unable to make well-informed decisions on behalf of the abused and neglected children in his courtroom with only the information he received from the state. He thought these children would be better served if a volunteer advocate was dedicated to each case. Each special advocate would be committed to gathering information about one child (or maybe several, but not the 25 to 40 that each social worker was responsible for) to present to the judge and speak in favor of that child’s best interests. Fifty people responded to his idea and the CASA program was born. Today, 73,000 volunteers in 933 programs in all 50 states and the District of Columbia represent 238,000 children.

CASAs come from all walks of life—no need for a legal background. You need never have set foot in a courtroom before or studied law. You must be 21 years old, undergo a background check, complete training, and have the time to appear in court. To Become a CASA, you must go through 30 hours of training, learning about your role associal issues affecting families, child development, and the court process. You will then be offered a case that you can review and take on, or turn down if you don’t feel it’s a good fit. Once matched, you get to know the child, speaking with teachers, counselors, lawyers, social workers, and foster parents, and of course the child himself. You compile as much information as possible and every six months, you present a report to the judge, alongside the other officials working on the child’s case, making recommendations about the best course of action for this child.

As a CASA, when you take on a case, you commit to staying with the child until the case is closed, working to achieve permanency in a stable, loving home if possible. The average case lasts about a year and a half, but some can be shorter, and some can be much longer. You can expect to invest 10 to 15 hours a month on a case. And you can choose whether you want to take on more than one case.

A CASA’s role is different than that of a social worker. Like a social worker, a CASA is working to achieve the best outcome for the child; however, the CASA is dedicated to just that child. In addition to juggling many more cases, a social worker is also concerned with the child’s birth family, helping all members to find solutions to the crises that necessitated foster care to begin with. A CASA is also different than a mentor. Like a mentor, a CASA develops a relationship with the child; but, the CASA’s primary role is to gather information about the child in order to present findings to a judge, to better assist that judge in making decisions in the child’s best interest, and monitoring case plans and court orders, to ensure they are being implemented. The CASA doesn’t go on social outings with the child and doesn’t have a part in the child’s day to day life.

CASAs are effective. According to a 2006 federal audit, children with CASAs are less likely to spend more than three years in foster care, saving taxpayers close to $50 million annually—and more importantly, finding permanency with a loving family faster. Judges have reported that they highly value the presence of a CASA, and in fact, often the information the social worker presents was received from the CASA.

Like a mentor, a CASA might be the only consistent adult in the life of a child in foster care. Children in the system bounce from foster home to foster home, attend many different schools, and can be shuffled among several social workers and lawyers. A CASA can provide stability and the assurance that at least one adult cares what happens.

If you’re interested in becoming a CASA, check out the website.

Tune in Monday to read about a CASA.

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