State & Local Programs

Five CASA Programs Complete Pilot of Organizational Model for Resiliency

Core resiliency elements identified, strategies developed to build resiliency in staff and volunteers


Five CASA programs participated in a national pilot of an organizational model to build resiliency in child abuse staff and volunteers. The Resiliency Project was led by the Institute on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault (IDVSA) at The University of Texas at Austin, School of Social Work, and funded by an Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) grant.


The project’s goal was to provide consistent and quality services to children who had been abused by reducing turnover, an issue of particular concern in CASA programs where experienced volunteers are so vital. The CASA teams were part of a collaboration that included child abuse practitioners, researchers, educators and advocates that developed, implemented and evaluated the organizational model.


National CASA helped distribute the national call for applications, which led to the selection of 12 pilot sites, including the five CASA programs. Two people from each pilot site were designated as “resiliency coaches” to reflect their active participation in taking what they learned in two training sessions and implementing the model in their agencies.


CASA Resiliency Project Pilot Sites:

  • CASA of Lane County, Springfield, OR – Louise Vanderford and Patrick Schrieber
  • CASA of St. Louis County, St. Louis, MO – Shamele Hill and Veronica Neuhoff
  • Child Advocates of Fort Bend County, Rosenberg, TX – Metoyer Ellis and Fiona Remko
  • Pulaski County CASA, Little Rock, AR –Michelle Trulsrud, Marquita Rogers and Darryl Capps
  • Richland County CASA, Columbia, SC – Paige Greene, Lela Allen-Haines

The foundation of the organizational resiliency model is the five core elements that research and practice wisdom show to be present in people who are resilient. The UT-IDVSA Resiliency Project drew on the research and practice wisdom gathered from an extensive literature review to identify strategies organizations can use to build resilience in their staff and volunteers. Strategies were identified that would integrate the five core elements within the organization through policy, supervision and competency-based training.


Pilot sites were asked to spend between two and four hours a month implementing the organizational model using strategies from their action plans. Many sites, including CASA programs, developed additional strategies of their own.


In a recent National CASA webinar, Paige Greene from Richland County CASA and Shamele Hill from Voices for Children, (formerly CASA of St. Louis County), shared some of the strategies they implemented as resiliency coaches for the pilot.


Here are a few examples tied to each of the core elements:


Self-Knowledge and Insight–the CASA program’s pre-training interview tool was amended to include questions that help identify a potential volunteer’s motivation for doing CASA work, based on research showing that retention is better when people come to this work with a sense of personal and professional mission and are well-matched to their position. The use of the revised tool has increased the number of volunteers who complete the training. Teams also posted their mission statements and held discussions about how each person’s work contributed to the agency mission.


Sense of Hope–recognizing staff and volunteers with thank you notes, retreats and activities that underscore the difference they are making helps build a sense of optimism that increases resiliency and decreases turnover. Teams had volunteers design individual t-shirts that answered the question, “What gives you hope?” These were hung in the CASA lobby and “made hope visible” to staff, volunteers and visitors. Opportunities for laughter and fun in the workplace are also simple ways to build strengths in this core element.


Healthy Coping–having protocols in place to deal with child deaths or other crises—including debriefings and monthly wellness meetings with a volunteer counselor—and increasing supervision to focus not only on how the case is proceeding but how the volunteer is handling the stress of the court system are keys to retention. Simple steps include recognizing that the work has an impact and designing ways to make sure the impact is addressed.


Strong Relationships–build an organizational culture that supports workers, including a commitment to addressing conflict and negative actions before they rise to the level that warrants a grievance. The focus must be on relationships that sustain workers, with clear lines drawn to make sure the “work” family does not detract from the “home” family.


Personal Perspective and Meaning–fostering reflection and journaling that helps workers “make meaning” of the work and its alignment with their personal values. These can be accessed through one’s own moral code, spirituality or meaning-making process.


OVC is now working with UT-IDVSA and others to make the materials from the Resiliency Project available throughout the nation. The team is shaping IDVSA’s three-day, in-person training curriculum into an innovative blended learning approach—using e-learning technology and in-person training to deliver the content. The CASA resiliency coaches are featured in videos that will be part of the blended-learning curriculum.


“CASA has been a key partner in this effort to create an organizational resiliency model,” said Karen Kalergis, UT-IDVSA Resiliency Project Director. “We have really enjoyed working with Sally Erny and the CASA resiliency coaches to make this much-needed resource available to the field. We are excited about continuing our partnership with National CASA and sustain staff and volunteers who advocate for abused or neglected children within the court system.”


For more information on the Resiliency Project, contact Karen Kalergis.

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