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National CASA Develops Specialized Curriculum for Advocacy for Older Youth

Sally ErnySally Erny, Chief Program Officer, National CASA Association

Summary: National CASA’s new Fostering Futures volunteer training curriculum is teaching CASA volunteers to help older youth transition from state care to successful adulthood.


Each year, about 25,000 young people ages 18 to 21 must leave foster care. The outcomes for youth aging out of foster care without a permanent home are often dismal. Consider these statistics:

  • Only 58% had a high school degree at age 19, compared to 87% of a national comparison group of non-foster youth
  • Of youth who aged out of foster care and are over the age of 25, fewer than 3% earned their college degrees, compared with 28 % of the general population
  • About one in five alumni were homeless for one or more nights within a year after leaving foster care
  • One in four of these youth will be incarcerated within the first two years after they leave the system
  • The rate of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among alumni was nearly five times that of the general population and, at 21.5%, exceeded the rates for American war veterans

Based on the extensive experience of local CASA programs and volunteers working with the highest risk cases of maltreatment, and applying recent research findings, we have the opportunity to positively impact these outcomes for our youth. Through the generous support of the Walmart Foundation, National CASA launched the Fostering Futures program in May 2010. The program is designed to improve the outcomes of older youth preparing to age out the foster care system with no permanent home.  

The Fostering Futures program engages CASA volunteers as advocates for and advisors to fos­ter youth ages 14–21, with the goal of helping them identify supportive adult connections and develop specific plans for making a successful transition from foster care to becoming indepen­dent, successful adults. In their work with older youth, the advocate adds to the traditional CASA volunteer role the important activities of partnering with the youth to empower them in decision making and planning for their future. The volunteer advocate’s role in working with an older youth includes creating a sense of permanence in which the youth is connected to at least one caring, committed adult who will be a long-term support person for the youth. When working with an older youth, the volunteer partners with the youth to carry out activities. Because services are so crucial to this vulnerable population, the volunteer must become a fierce advocate for the youth to obtain needed services critical to the ultimate outcome.

The key component of our Fostering Futures initiative is the development of a specialized training curriculum to educate and support volunteers to be the most effective advocates for older youth. National CASA has been working with 16 CASA/GAL programs across the country over the past year to pilot and begin evaluating the effectiveness of the training curriculum.

National CASA designed this curriculum to include a self-paced, online component that volunteers complete in order to receive an orientation to the concepts in the Fostering Futures curriculum prior to attending eight hours of in-person training. Throughout the course of this training curriculum, volunteers explore in more depth the following topic areas:

  • Unique CASA/GAL roles and responsibilities when working with older youth
  • Federal laws that impact advocacy for older youth
  • Needs of adolescent youth
  • Differences (and similarities) between advocates and mentors
  • Concept of “possible selves”
  • Shared decision making/planning
  • Addressing challenges faced by older youth in care

The “possible selves” model is a key component of the Fostering Futures curriculum. Based on research out of the University of Michigan, “possible selves” helps young people achieve their full potential by promoting a positive self-identity, setting goals for the future and developing formal plans to achieve those goals.

The Fostering Futures curriculum provides volunteers with two specific tools that can be used while working with and advocating for older youth:

  •  An “Older Youth Needs Assessment” (focusing on the needs of older youth in the following areas: education, employment, housing, life skills, mental/physical health needs and relationships)
  • A goal-setting packet based on the concept of “possible selves”

Volunteers who have completed the Fostering Futures training and have applied concepts and tools from the training to their work with adolescent youth have remarked:

“I may have stumbled upon some of these conversations [about goal-setting and possible future selves] at some point without this training, but the training helped me be more than just his buddy. It gave me the clarity to keep myself focused when talking with him.” – Volunteer from San Antonio

“Helping my 14- and 16-year-old boys work through these exercises was like seeing them experience a sci-fi action movie of their own futures. Instead of the drudgery I had expected it to be, I witnessed excitement and creativity. I had asked them to help me learn this for the sake of future foster kids since this was my first time through it as well, and they loved that we were learning together. They looked forward to our Sunday sessions, hanging the forms on their refrigerator and adding to them throughout the week.” – Volunteer from San Juan County (NM)

To date 1,1262 volunteers from across the country have participated in the pilot curriculum and are serving 1,193 youth. The pilot phase of this project was recently completed and following a review of the data collected, National CASA will edit the pilot curriculum and make the curriculum available to the larger CASA/GAL network. In addition to a full evaluation of the training we will also be evaluating outcomes for youth through the analysis of completed pre and post needs assessments.


The US Department of Justice has supported CASA advocacy since 1985 through its Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
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