Help Out CASA, the Court Appointed Special Advocates — contact your representatives


For 10 years National CASA received $12 million in funding for the CASA program through the Victims of Child Abuse Act. We have used these vital funds to provide advocacy, training and technical assistance in support of almost 1,000 CASA programs around the country serving 240,000 neglected and abused children each year.

Last year Congress reduced the funding for CASA programs to $4.5 million. And now, the Administration has proposed eliminating all funding for this vital program in FY 2013.

A team of CASA representatives met with 40 congressional representatives last week and learned that there is a chance to restore full funding for this program provided enough congressional offices urge appropriators to do the right thing. But timing is critical.

You must do two things right now to restore CASA funding:

  1. Immediately use Email, Facebook and Twitter to pass this alert along to staff, volunteers, board members, and your networks of friends and colleagues. 
  2. Immediately contact your two senators and your one member of the US House of Representatives and send them the letter below. (You can cut and paste it into your email)

You can reach your senators and representative from this site:

Enter your zip code (only) and the site will take you directly to the contact information for your two senators and one representative. Click on the “Contact Forms” and it will link you directly to each of the three congressional websites, from which you can submit your request.

It is imperative that we act quickly. If you have any questions, contact:

Message to send to congressional offices:

Please urge the Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce and Justice to restore appropriated funding of $12 million for the Court Appointed Special Advocate program for children (CASA).  Tell the subcommittee of your support, and include the CASA program on your appropriations programmatic request list.

CASA saves lives—The program has achieved unprecedented success in breaking the cycle of abuse and neglect, and offering our most vulnerable children hope of a safe, loving, permanent home.

CASA saves billions in taxpayer dollars—Every dollar spent on CASA yields $23 in savings in the foster care and family court systems.

CASA is good policy—It is the model of an outstanding public/private partnership. A nonprofit organization, backed by the Department of Justice, and fueled by 75,000 volunteer child advocates.

The need is urgent—With current resources we only reach 240,000 of the nearly 660,000 children in foster care. The proposed budget cut would devastate our ability to reach even the small fraction we do today.

This is society’s obligation—Protecting the rights and safety of abused and neglected children is one of society’s most fundamental obligations.

Restoring this funding is neither controversial nor debatable. These children need our help and CASA is the proven solution. Thank you for your attention and support of this critical issue!

An interesting piece from USA-Today, showing a recent shift from elderly living in poverty, to children. Thanks to Lisa Endo, for passing it along.

An interesting piece from USA-Today, showing a recent shift from elderly living in poverty, to children. Thanks to Lisa Endo, for passing it along.

a commonly forgotten foster youth, who experienced many of the struggles foster youth face…

An Editorial from the SF Chronicle

Various studies have shown that foster youth leaving the system at 18 are far more likely to become homeless or incarcerated than to attend college. Dollars for a program that has shown it can keep them in school, and help them prosper, represent one of the wisest investments this state can make.

CASA’s Conondrum: Research, Efficacy, and Trust for CASA and Beyond

Every year, Edelman PR releases its “Trust Barometer” (see below), which assesses the types of people (e.g. CEOs, friends) and/or institutions (e.g. NGOs, Think Tanks) that consumers look and listen to when they make opinions about the quality of an organization.[1] This year, regular employees and people “like yourself” gained great credibility. CEOs and government officials lost notable authority. Academic institutions and “experts” retained their position as the most trusted voices when it comes to gauging an organization.

These trust findings have tremendous importance for organizations like the San Francisco Court Appointed Special Advocates (SFCASA); for although 10% of SFCASA funding comes from the government—namely from the court system that officially appoints a counties’ volunteer advocates—SF CASA relies heavily on individual, corporate, and foundation giving. These groups account for roughly the other 40%, 10% and 40% of their annual budget, respectively. As such, through grant-writing, event-planning, and general PR-ing (read: Public Realtions-ing), CASA must, and does, invest incredible time and energy promoting its cause and advocating its merit. However, as the Edelman report explains, CASA itself is not its best spokesperson in this process. Academic and expert opinions lend a far more authoritative voice.

 Understandably, funders and donors want hard figures to validate an organization’s best-intentioned missions. As such, particularly in the increasingly fierce non-profit battle for funding (2011 was the first year that saw increases in charitable giving after the recession), efficacy figures and effectiveness metrics are key. [2]  Academics play a notable role in generating these numbers. Whether it’s documenting the cost-saving benefits of preventive medicine or illustrating the power of mindfulness meditation in treating trauma, effectiveness studies are common topics of academic research. Organizations incorporate these findings to buffer their value.

In the years to come, the rise of evidence-based grant-giving could pose serious problems for organizations without clearly proven outcomes—and potentially an unfair disadvantage for organization with outcomes that are difficult to assess. CASA falls into this category. As Berkeley Professor of Social Work explains in her article “Establishing CASA as an Evidence-Based Practice,” although CASA has been operating since 1977 and currently operates in 49 states with roughly 75,000 volunteers, there’s shockingly little conclusive documentation of its effectiveness. The organization is very highly regarded—by community members, courts, children, and government workers, alike—and studies show that CASA volunteers are commonly the most reliable, lasting person in a foster child’s life.[3]

However, efforts to measure the positive outcomes the program espouses  for foster youth has been difficult. For one, it’s difficult, at times even illegal, to follow a person for multiple years—a requisite in charting long term outcomes (e.g. graduation rates, unemployment, and incarceration). For another, while not all foster youth receive CASA volunteers—which would seem to create two simple pools of children to compare—the foster youth who typically receive CASA volunteers are those with the greatest need (long history of abuse, little external support, multiple indicators of mental disturbance). As such, considerable selection bias would exist in comparing those who were recommended to receive CASA support from those who were not. The children likely come from different starting points.[4]  

Given these obstacles, existing studies typically focus primarily on short term outcomes of children assigned CASA volunteers versus those who were not. Were CASA children more likely to be reunited with their families or put into a longterm living solution? Did they reach this “permanency” more quickly? Most studies say yes, although all do not concur. Moreover, one cannot even make conclusions about how beneficial these differences really are. Who is really to say that reunification with the biological family is best for the child? Is this the appropriate metric to measure the benefit of a CASA volunteer?

It’s difficult to say.  While studies on the CASA the organization yield complex, equivocal outcomes, studies on foster care in and of itself yield even more ambiguous findings. Although the government has funded children’s welfare basically since the Progressive Era, and although it has tried to guide social workers on best outcomes for children by advocating reunification, there really is no conclusive work. To the contrary, emerging research challenges longstanding government opinion that reunification with a child’s biological family is the best option for foster youth; instead, researchers are finding that reunification is associated with more self-destructive behavior, increased substance abuse, and a higher likelihood of dropping out of school.[5] Simultaneously, however, foster youth themselves commonly assert that their lives would be better, or at least have stayed the same, had they stayed with their biological families.[6]

These gaps in effectiveness studies both illustrate CASA’s quandary and its great import. Without reliable scientific studies, CASA programs cannot easily prove their effectiveness to donors, nor do they have clear guidance on how best to structure their programs. Studies are thus critically needed to ‘sell’ the program to potential donors, but of far more importance, they are necessary to develop the best program for the child.

Still, despite the lack of hard CASA studies, research on child development, the positive effects of mentoring, the role of conscientious parents, and more all infer the likely power of having a CASA volunteer in a child’s life. It would be wrong, after all, to throw out all common sense just because specific numbers aren’t present.  For given the ambiguity on best-practices, careful nuance and thoughtfulness is essential to ensure a child’s best outcome. Individualized decisions are best, and a CASA volunteer is clearly positioned to make this happen. By hanging out with the child, getting to know the family, talking to teachers and more, the CASA can provide the very individualization the child needs.

[3] Berrick, Jill and Lawson, Jennifer. “Establishing CASA as an Evidence-Based Practice.” Journal of Evidence Based Practice. In Press.

[4] Berrick and Lawson, “Establishing”

[5] Heather N. Taussig, Robert B. Clyman, and John Landsverk. “Children Who Return Home From Foster Care: A 6 Year Prospective Study of Behavioral Health Outcomes in Adolescence.” PEDIATRICS Vol. 108 No. 1 July 2001

[6] Dena Miller Dunn a„ Sara E. Culhane b,1, Heather N. Taussig. “Children’s appraisals of their experiences in out-of-home care.” Children and Youth Services Review, 2010.

Edelman’s Trust Barometer

Edelman’s Trust Barometer

Potential Loss of CA Foster Child Education Fund

Governor Jerry Brown is considering overturning CA’s existing Foster Youth Services education program, which has helped foster kids navigate the education system for the past 30 years. Brown instead suggests collapsing the Foster Youth Services program into a larger education fund that individual schools/ districts could then distribute as needed across a handful of programs— whether art, physical educ, etc.

Fewer dog ears could be helpful in some districts who can distribute funds to their specific needs. However, as Washington Times correspondent Andrea Poe explains, it could also mean foster kids get lost in the fray: “The fear is that foster kids could be left out of the equation when allotting funds since their numbers and residencies are so difficult to track and districts aren’t always aware of their own populations, which can change frequently.”

Read from the Washington Times more here…

From Huffington Post— foster youth march

From Huffington Post— foster youth march

""Everyone is much more interested in hearing directly from young people," says Janet Knipe, Executive Director of the National Foster Youth Action Network (NFYAN)"

Huffington Post’s coverage of the foster youth march on Sacramento. Amongst other things, the group is asking for additional support for Foster youth seeking college education.

From USA Today— Charitable giving starts to rise after recession.

From USA Today— Charitable giving starts to rise after recession.