News and Information from the National Court Appointed Special Advocate Association

From the President

Our Vision for Child Advocacy
Through 2014

Britt Banks
Principal, NovaWest LLC, Denver, CO and
President, National CASA

It is a special privilege to have become the president of the National CASA Association Board of Trustees last April, after serving in various capacities on the board over the past eight years. Many thanks to our outgoing president, Judge Ernestine Gray of Louisiana, for her leadership and dedication over the last two years. Hers is an example I will strive to emulate.

The importance of our mission was recently brought home to me in a very personal way, when I attended the high school graduation of my sister’s youngest child in May. As we greeted Kurt in the auditorium after the ceremony, I realized that among parents, stepparents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, there were nine adults there celebrating his accomplishment. Each of us was heavily invested in his upbringing and determined to help him in any way we can in the future. 

As happy for and proud of my nephew as I was at that moment, I couldn’t help but think of the many children who lack that type of support network or anything close to it. In some cases, children in foster care lack even one adult who is focused on their future success and development. Of course, that is where the work of our organization comes in. In many cases, our children do have one adult looking out for their interests—and that person is their CASA volunteer. My experience at graduation highlighted for me the urgent need to strengthen our efforts to ensure that each child who needs one has a CASA volunteer to look to for support and advocacy.

So how do we get there? It’s a question that the staff and board of National CASA have spent a great deal of time on recently, culminating in the adoption of a five-year strategic plan in September 2009. This plan incorporates five strategic initiatives, each based on increased and more effective collaboration with our state organizations and local programs. The five initiatives can be summarized as follows:

Supporting and engaging our volunteers

This initiative focuses on steps National CASA can take to improve the level of engagement of and training opportunities for volunteers, to increase volunteer retention and recruitment as well as more generally to raise the level of collaboration and teamwork within the network. A key aspect of this initiative involves tapping into new technology practices and platforms, such as social networking sites. An important first step—improving the quality and functionality of the National CASA website—occurred almost a year ago with the rollout of the new

Building capacity at the program level

While the first initiative is focused on volunteers, the second is focused on how National CASA can better serve state and local programs as well as build capacity throughout the network. The initiative will focus on assisting state and local programs with strategic planning, leadership and governance, resource development, volunteer oversight and training, information technology and a host of other management-related issues. The more support National CASA can give to the network in running their organizations, the more time local programs can spend focusing on the core mission of advocating on behalf of children.

Reducing disproportionality and ensuring equitable outcomes

This initiative is the focus of this issue of The Connection, so you’ll have the opportunity to learn more about it in the pages that follow. By sponsoring more detailed research and evaluation, providing training and resources on the issue to the network and actively collaborating with the child welfare community at the national and local levels, National CASA can make a difference in reducing disparate treatment based on race or other factors and in ensuring equitable outcomes.

Successful transitions into early adulthood

The fourth initiative focuses on developing advocacy tools for the network specific to young people preparing to transition out of the foster care system into early adulthood. National CASA will engage with other organizations focused on these youth so that our volunteers can benefit from their expertise as well. We are well on our way to implementing our new Fostering Futures initiative, which provides a curriculum specifically preparing our volunteers to work with youth in transition. You'll learn more about this in our next issue of The Connection.

Raising awareness and developing resources

The fifth initiative is geared toward raising community support for our cause as well as increasing the level and diversity of funding for our network. We are focusing on further developing both the board and staff of National CASA with respect to fundraising. We seek to better leverage the assets and relationships of the entire network to develop these needed resources.

These goals are ambitious and require a tremendous amount of time and work from everyone involved. But with your help, five years from now we’ll be much closer to achieving our mission: “to support and promote court-appointed volunteer advocacy so that every abused or neglected child can be safe, establish permanence and have the opportunity to thrive.”

Britt Banks

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Anonymous @ 12/27/2010 11:34:20 AM 
Thanks for writing. I'm sorry you've had this lack of response. With 1,000+ local program offices, staff capacity varies. If you'd like more information or followup, please call 800/628-3233. --Editor
Anonymous @ 12/8/2010 8:02:16 PM 
I have volunteered twice over the past 18 months with our county CASA (via the CASA national website) and I have never received a reply. I was a CASA for a program in Iowa and I am also an MSW. How can the recruiting efforts struggle so much when there are willing volunteers out here but we are not contacted?

Hamilton County, IN
Anonymous @ 12/8/2010 8:37:03 AM 
As a CASA volunteer I feel the local sites need more training and awareness on what we are allowed to do as far as bringing in other organizations such as faith based organizations to recruit more volunteers, more resources, donations, tutoring, fundraisers and things whic will help the volunteer open up doors for these childrens needs.
Anonymous @ 12/7/2010 7:08:13 AM 
As a CASA myself having already gone through the training we do learn the importance of being unbiased. However, our primary responsibilty is to the children not the adults, so we watch and see how the parents react and if they take their roles and responsibilities seriously, in the interum we spend time with the kids and attempt to make sure their best interests are before the court. We are taught that a childs best place is with their biological family, however if the adults choose to make unwise decisions that would harm or affect the kids we pay attention to that to make sure the kids lives are not disrupted by a parents unwise choices, and or support the parents as they make good choices and make steps to reunification. We have to look at the whole situation. If the parents do well CASA is supportive, but we won't put a child in danger if bad choices are made. Hope that helps!
Anonymous @ 10/20/2010 9:25:55 PM 
The program is an overall positve stride in determining the child's best interest. How do you address with your VGAL/ CASA the importance of being unbiased?
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