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Michael Nash

Top Tips for Volunteers

Five Ways to Promote Adoption

Hon. Michael Nash
Los Angeles Superior Court, CA
2006 National CASA Judge of the Year

For 20 years, I have been fortunate to work in a juvenile dependency court with an active and vibrant CASA program. Our program in Los Angeles has been in existence since 1978 and has helped thousands of children in many different ways. One of the areas in which the assistance of a CASA volunteer has been most helpful is adoption.

For most children and families who enter our child protection system, the plan is family reunification. Unfortunately, due to a variety of circumstances, family reunification does not always occur. In those cases, we must develop a different permanent plan. After all, every child is entitled to grow up in a healthy, safe, loving and permanent home. The best way to ensure that when family reunification fails is through adoption. In fact, next to reunification, the preferred permanent plan under the law is adoption. In Los Angeles, we have completed 25,000 adoptions for children from our foster care system since 1998, helping reduce the number of children under our dependency court’s jurisdiction from more than 53,000 to fewer than 24,500.

Over the years, we have seen CASA volunteers impact adoptions in five key ways:

1. Review the File Thoroughly.

One of the first tasks the CASA volunteer must undertake is to review the court file as thoroughly as possible. A case in point is one where CASA volunteers, a husband-and-wife team, were enlisted to advocate for a child who was dying of AIDS. Working with the child’s social worker, attorney and doctors, they helped obtain what was considered an experimental treatment which helped prolong the child’s life. If that weren’t enough, in reviewing the file, the CASA volunteers located a previous prospective adoptive parent who had been discouraged from adopting because of the child’s illness. With support from the CASA team, that relationship was renewed, and the child was adopted.

2. Get to Know Everyone Involved in the Child’s Life.

CASA volunteers, in the normal course of their duties, have the opportunity to know everyone who touches the life of a child. When that happens—and when individuals understand the unique role of advocacy in children’s lives—it often opens doors. During a visit to a child’s school, one of our volunteers was asked to meet with the school principal, who shyly inquired whether the child was available for adoption. It turned out that the principal was interested, and she did adopt the child, who has had a very happy life ever since.

3. Improve a Child’s Stability.

How many times have CASA volunteers been asked to step in because the system seems to be failing and a child’s emotional state is spiraling downward? And how many children are losing out on placements with families, being considered “unadoptable”? Time after time, we have seen children become more amenable to services such as counseling after CASA volunteers gain their confidence. When that happens, doors begin to open for that child, including doors of potential adoptive homes.

4. Help Obtain Missing Documents.

The adoption process is often a complicated maze of paperwork for those going through it. Too often adoptions are delayed because some necessary document is missing. One of the luxuries that CASA volunteers have is a small caseload, usually one and seldom more than a couple. Our social workers and attorneys never have the luxury of a small caseload, which is one of the reasons there are so many cracks in the system that CASA volunteers help fill.

In Los Angeles, we had a case where our child protection department tried unsuccessfully for three years to obtain a birth certificate for a child whose foster family was waiting to adopt. Finally, the court requested CASA involvement. Like a detective, the CASA volunteer pursued a trail through hospitals, including a defunct one, child welfare agencies, the delivering obstetrician and others. Within six weeks, the CASA volunteer had a “delayed registration of birth” in hand, and the adoption was completed without any further delay.

5. Serve as an Extra Set of Eyes.

One of the great benefits of having a CASA volunteer on a case is that it adds an extra set of eyes and ears observing how the child is doing and reporting to the court. In the adoption arena, CASA volunteers continuously provide information on the suitability of placements and children’s adjustment to placements. Further, CASA volunteers often provide information on a child’s relationship with his or her birth family, information which is critical to the court making a decision in the child’s best interest.

As a long-time judge in the nation’s largest juvenile court, I know I speak for my colleagues in expressing our deepest appreciation for the help CASA volunteers provide to our children—and to those of us who must make so many critical decisions, especially those impacting permanence, for the children before us.

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