Providing foster children with trained volunteer advocates who work to get these youth out of the system and into safe and permanent homes as quickly as possible, while helping them navigate the system

Headquarters
100 West Harrison St.
North Tower, Ste. 500
Seattle, WA 98119

Countries Served
United States

Budget
$7,000,000

Problem


On any given day, there are over 400,000 youth in foster care nationwide. While foster care programs are administered at the county level in most states, the pattern of interactions and consequences is distressingly consistent across the country: youth who are or have been in the foster care system have low levels of education, poor employment prospects, poor health, and high crime rates.

  • 84% of foster youth become young parents.
  • 30% of foster teen boys will be incarcerated before age 21.
  • 25% of foster youth suffer from PTSD – a rate comparable to military war veterans.
  • Only 50% will complete high school or obtain a GED.
  • Less than 3% will go on to earn a college degree.

The severity of these outcomes are only compounded for youth who leave the system at ages 18-21 because they have “aged-out.” Due to the system’s institutional challenges, we believe priority needs to be placed on helping youth stay out of the system, or if they are in it, to get out as quickly as possible and into safe and permanent homes.

Programs Offered


Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children (CASA) is a network of 938 local and state programs in 49 states that recruit, train, and support citizen-volunteers to be court-appointed advocates for what is often the most challenging subset of foster care youth. These are the children who, if un-aided, are most likely to spend the longest time in foster care and face bleak outcomes.

CASA volunteers are often the only ones to assemble a firsthand understanding of the situation and needs of the child as a prelude to making informed recommendations to the court. For many abused and neglected children, a CASA volunteer is the only constant adult presence in their lives. Recruitment standards, time commitments, and training for CASA volunteers are rigorous. Training addresses child abuse and neglect, family dynamics, child rearing styles, juvenile justice legal procedures, and foster care placement.

A volunteer is usually responsible for only one or two cases at a time and almost always until the case is closed. CASA volunteers perform four functions until permanency is achieved:

Fact-Finder & Investigator – Conducts a thorough investigation of all the information relevant to the case

Represent Child’s Best Interest – Advocates for what is in the child’s best interest, taking into account the wishes of the child

Case Monitoring & Reporting – Ensures that all court orders and administrative processes are handled properly, reporting factual errors or updates to the court as required

Resource Broker – Seeks out and advocates for services that will help establish a strong support network for the child, and helps ensure that services are fulfilled appropriately and in a timely manner

Historical Results


Since inception in 1977, CASA volunteers have helped more than two million abused and neglected children navigate the complicated foster care system. In 2016 alone, 87,000 CASA volunteers helped guide 280,000 children through the foster care system and/or achieve permanency outside the system–a 13% increase in volunteers and a 12% jump in foster youth served over 2015.

CASA has been the subject of many studies, reviews, and surveys of varying methodological rigor. Although data collection is not consistent across these studies, and the very imperfections of the system that make the involvement of CASA so important also result in challenges in tracking outcomes, certain key statistics are available that demonstrate material, positive impacts. Case outcomes include:

Recommendations To Court – The recommendations of CASA volunteers are highly valued by the courts. In 80% of cases, all or almost all CASA volunteer recommendations are accepted.

Re-Entrance Rates – Foster children with a CASA volunteer who are placed in what are believed to be safe and permanent homes re-enter the child welfare system between 1.4% – 9% of the time (depending on the jurisdiction), compared to 16% for children in non-CASA cases.

Provision of Appropriate Services – Foster children with a CASA volunteer had appropriate services ordered 46% of the time compared to 32% in non-CASA cases. Appropriate services are those that match the requirements of an approved case plan.

Final Placement & Probability of Adoption – Foster children with a CASA volunteer were adopted 22% of the time versus 14% of the time for children not assigned a CASA volunteer.

Placement & Time Spent In Foster Care –The average CASA supported youth has 3.3 placements. Far too many but meaningfully fewer than the 4.6 average placements for non-CASA cases. The average time a child spent in the foster care system for cases assigned to a CASA volunteer was 31 months v. a total of 40 months for non-CASA cases. This is quite notable since courts appoint CASA advocates to the most challenging cases, where the typical duration in the system would otherwise be much higher than the average for foster youth as a whole.

Use Of Funds


Please note that opportunities to support a CASA program can vary, as each of the 1,000 county-based programs is an autonomous organization. Focusing Philanthropy maintains close relationships with a handful of CASA programs in California. For information on other CASA programs not listed below, or for unique opportunities above and beyond sponsoring a foster child with advocacy (listed below) please contact Focusing Philanthropy.

$2,500 provides one foster child with a full year of life-changing CASA advocacy in San Diego County.

$4,000 provides one foster child with a full year of life-changing CASA advocacy in Los Angeles County.

Path to Credibility


In March 2014, three Focusing Philanthropy team members visited the CASA program of Los Angeles and met with several key staff including the Executive Director. They also had a private meeting with the Presiding Judge of the Juvenile Court at Los Angeles Superior Court. Los Angeles County has about 28,000 youth in its foster care system, and all are overseen by the Juvenile Court. The Focusing Philanthropy team also observed court hearings to gain a firsthand understanding of the environment in which CASA volunteers, judges, social workers, attorneys, parents, and foster youth interact. Focusing Philanthropy staff conducted two additional site visits to the CASA program in Los Angeles in 2015 and 2016 for routine monitoring.

Additional site visits to other CASA program regions were conducted in Cook County, Illinois and San Diego County–in 2014 and 2016 respectively. Interactions with CASA staff, volunteer advocates and Juvenile Court judges took place at both of these site visits. We conduct multiple site visits of nonprofits with large program networks that span multiple geographies in order to better understand any variations in program implementation.

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

→ Read Los Angeles and Chicago Trip Report

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