News and Information from the National Court Appointed Special Advocate Association


Closing Words

Leveling the Playing Field for Children in Foster Care

Judge Glenda A. Hatchett
National CASA Spokesperson

“CASA is an awesome program, and you can get our support. The problem is that CASA is a secret in this city. You have to figure out how we get the word out.”
—Pastor John Hannah, New Life Covenant Church, Chicago, IL

“I think you need to get out some information about the percentage of kids who are African American coming into the system. In addition to the churches, you need to reach out to the sororities, fraternities and business organizations.”
—Pastor Andrew Singleton, Victory Apostolic Church, Chicago, IL

I was in Chicago in June to do radio interviews on behalf of National CASA. While I was there, I also got a chance to meet with two prominent African American ministers. We wanted to talk to them about the fact that 80% of children in Chicago’s foster care system are African American. 80%! When according to the 2000 census, fewer than 40% of Chicagoans as a whole are African American. Talk about disproportionate representation—double what you would expect from the general population. So what’s wrong?

We gave these prominent men of faith not only the numbers but also powerful stories about CASA volunteers helping children. Then we asked for their help in reaching out to their congregations to recruit supporters for CASA. As their quotes above show, still not enough people know about CASA volunteers. If people understand our cause, they are ready to help. When I was on the radio in Chicago, the lines lit up with people calling to volunteer. Historically, the faith-based African American community has been a strong nexus of volunteers. Churches were the backbone of the civil rights movement and have been key leaders in social change. So let’s use that energy to meet the needs of children in foster care and to recruit volunteers.

Now that they know about us, pastors John Hannah and Andrew Singleton are going to be wonderful allies for our local programs. Besides the lack of awareness, what else did we learn from them? For one thing, many churches have active men’s ministries. The pastors agreed that CASA representatives need to sit down with the heads of these ministries first. This would serve two purposes: to provide an inroad to busy pastors and to attract African American men as volunteers. Having CASA volunteers who are sensitive to the overrepresentation of children of color ultimately helps all children find their way out of care and into permanent homes as quickly as possible. I have seen so many wonderful situations where, because of the involvement of CASA volunteers, children found permanency faster—whether they were able to return safely to their biological parents, find a home with a relative or be adopted.

How do they do this? Primarily by raising questions. What can we do to avoid bringing this child into foster care? Are there some alternatives to keeping this child away from the family? Can we get a protective order so that the child continues to live at home but with some intense services supporting the parents?

CASA volunteers prevent inequity in many situations. For example, they find relatives nobody knew about who are willing to take guardianship. In some situations, the kin had no idea that the children were even in care. I love the story about the CASA volunteer who went online and found an uncle clear across the country, who in turn reached out to other family members. At the child’s next hearing, 10 relatives showed up! They talked among themselves about who would have the privilege of taking custody of this child, and I made the final ruling. But for the CASA volunteer, we were unlikely to have that kind of outcome.

What would we do if we didn’t have the CASA movement right now? Given the crisis that we are in with the number of children in care, we’d have to invent it. Advocates provide that extra pair of eyes and—very importantly—a loving and concerned heart that leads them to ask the hard questions.

Honorable Glenda A. Hatchett

 

Hon. Glenda A. Hatchett is an authority on juvenile issues known for her award-winning television series Judge Hatchett. Her new book Dare to Take Charge came out recently. See Judge Hatchett’s websites for more information: glendahatchett.com and parentpowernow.com.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 



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