CIP Funds Expand CASA Programs, Quality of Advocacy

Joe GagenJoe Gagen, JD, Chief Executive Officer, Texas CASA

Summary: The author outlines the ways that CIP support has helped Texas CASA programs strengthen local programs’ service to children and expand CASA programs into previously unserved areas.

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Judges know the value that court appointed special advocate (CASA) volunteers bring to cases in which they must rule on the removals, placements, reunifications and overall well-being of children in foster care. The challenge in most states is ensuring that there are sufficient numbers of CASA volunteers to represent foster children’s best interests and that those volunteers have sufficient training and skills for judges to render appropriate decisions for children in care.

Since the establishment of congressional support for court improvement as a result of the Family Preservation Act of 1993, every state and the District of Columbia have been given Court Improvement Project (CIP) funds to improve the way courts handle child protection cases. Each state judiciary uses those resources to experiment with new ways of improving court operations by developing creative new ideas and successful programs and practices to be shared with courts in other states. Texas CASA uses CIP funds to recruit more volunteers, expand geographical reach and equip volunteers with all the tools they need to provide quality advocacy before the courts.

“Without CASA, foster children would languish and be put at risk in a child protective system that is overburdened with huge caseloads, caseworker turnover and complex cases,” said Judge Peter Sakai of the 225th District Court in San Antonio.

The Supreme Court of Texas’ Permanent Judicial Commission For Children, Youth and Families has the responsibility of overseeing three CIP grants.

“The Children's Commission views its partnership with CASA as very important. CASA is a long-standing Court Improvement Program partner with its volunteer recruitment, training and advocacy efforts. But more than that, CASA is a critical collaborative partner in helping identify and influence good judicial practices and helping focus training and educational opportunities for our judges simply because they are in our courts. Texas judges trust them and rely on their advocacy to help move children to permanent, safe homes as quickly as possible,” said Tina Amberboy, executive director, the Supreme Court of Texas Permanent Judicial Commission For Children, Youth & Families.

Texas CASA, the statewide organization that provides financial and technical assistance to 69 local CASA programs, uses CIP funds to achieve the two following goals:

Strengthen local CASA programs’ capacity to provide effective and consistent advocacy for children through volunteers by:

  • Providing quality training to local program staff on volunteer recruitment, training, management and education
  • Offering intensive training to new executive directors to educate them on the child welfare system, courts and advocacy
  • Providing training for local programs’ boards of directors to ensure quality oversight of programs
  • Enhancing CASA’s services to transitioning youth (youth aging out of the foster care system)

Expanding CASA services into additional counties and counties previously unserved by CASA. Texas CASA is continually expanding the number of counties served with CASA programs by supporting existing programs’ efforts to expand into unserved counties and by helping develop new CASA programs in unserved counties. Currently, 69 local CASA programs serve children in 204 of the 254 Texas counties.

The two-pronged strategy is working. In FY 2010, 6,619 volunteer advocates served 20,861 children. That was a 17% increase in volunteers serving 5% more children. Despite such gains, fewer than half the children in the state’s custody have volunteer advocates, and the gap is likely to widen. DFPS projects nearly 50,000 children will be in the state’s care and custody by 2014.1

CIP support to increase the number of advocates and improve the quality of advocacy is paying off for Texas foster children:

  • Children served by CASA volunteers are less likely to spend time in long-term foster care. Of all the children who left the Texas foster care system in 2009, 17% had been in foster care for three or more years, compared to only 10% of those children served by CASA.2
  • Children served by CASA are less likely to re-enter foster care once they leave.3 In a systemic review of 20 studies of CASA’s effectiveness, children served by CASA re-enter the foster care system at half the rate of children not represented by CASA.4
  • CASA volunteers help judges make better decisions for children. In a 2008 survey of Texas judges, 97% said that the information CASA provides is beneficial to their decision making, and 94% said CASA volunteers provided an opportunity for more positive outcomes for children. 5

Sources:

  1. Texas Department of Family and Protective Services
  2. According to DFPS statistics and local CASA program responses to a National CASA survey
  3. David Youngclarke, Kathleen Dyer Ramos, and Lorraine Granger-Merkle. 2004. "A Systemic Review of the Impact of Court Appointed Special Advocates." Journal for the Center of Families, Children and the Courts, p. 109-126.
  4. id
  5. Office of Survey Research, The Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Participation, the University of Texas at Austin http://www.texascasa.org/www/new/OSR_ExecutiveSummary08Survey.pdf

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