Your Voice can Change a Child’s Story

Foster Care in Contra Costa

Each year, through no fault of their own, hundreds of abused or neglected children in Contra Costa County come under the court’s care because they are unable to live safely at home. Shortly after, dozens of strangers are introduced into their lives, including law enforcement officers, social workers, judges, lawyers, resource parents, therapists, visitation staff, and more. Even after they get settled, placement changes can happen frequently, and case workers and providers assigned to their case can change, leaving children and youth to feel anxious, vulnerable, and alone.

Because of the enormous number of cases filed in juvenile court and dwindling resources to adequately investigate them, judges are often compelled to make permanency-planning decisions based on less than complete or objective information. This is where Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) volunteers can make a meaningful difference.

Court Appointed Special Advocates

CASA was started in Seattle, Washington in 1977 by Juvenile Court Judge David Soukup. Judge Soukup found he desperately needed more information about the children and youth that were appearing before him in court. He believed well-trained volunteers could ensure children’s voices were being heard and provide judges with the needed insight to make the best possible decisions. Our local program, the fourth in the nation, was founded in 1981 through the leadership of Judge Richard Patsey.

CASA of Contra Costa County is an independent, 501(c)(3) community-benefit organization, but we operate under the authority of and according to guidelines established by the Judicial Council, as outlined in California Welfare and Institutions Code §100 et seq., and California Rules of Court, rule 5.655. We are members of both the National CASA/GAL Association for Children and California CASA Association.

The Court Appointed Special Advocates Program recruits, trains, and supports volunteer advocates as a powerful voice for the best interest of abused and neglected children during the court process, to help every child ultimately thrive in a safe, stable, and permanent home. While others in the child’s life may come and go, a CASA volunteer commits to meeting weekly with the child or youth for a minimum of one full year, though many of our volunteers have been on their cases for years.

A Lasting Difference

CASA volunteers advocate one-on-one for abused and neglected children in foster care to make sure they do not get lost in the overburdened legal system or languish in an inappropriate placement. They are the child’s voice in court and speak up for the child’s best interests every step along the way. Volunteers help reduce delays and continuances and stay with each case until it is closed after the child or youth is placed in a safe and permanent home.

CASA volunteers are extensively trained through a trauma-informed lens and focus on all aspects of a child’s well-being and development. They spend time weekly with their youth, developing a relationship, building trust, and helping to spark joy and curiosity as they venture out into the community, exploring parks, playing games or sports, enjoying a meal, visiting libraries, museums, farmers’ markets, and more. These weekly visits are opportunities for children and youth to enjoy time out of their resource or group home placement, to explore new interests, and to experience hope as they look towards their future.

CASA volunteers also maintain ongoing communication with all parties involved in the case, including school personnel, therapists, social workers, caregivers, attorneys, and often the youth’s family members, to best serve their youth’s unique interests. They write reports for the court, attend Child and Family Team Meetings, and attend all court hearings for their child or youth.

CASA volunteers carefully monitor reading progress in younger children, and secure Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) as needed. Our reproductive health program provides education and access to reproductive health care, and our mental health program, A Home Within-CASA Therapy Project, provides free teletherapy for foster youth who do not qualify for services under Medi-Cal.

In addition to our services for abused and neglected children and youth, the National CASA Association works to provide community education and awareness concerning the issues of child abuse, neglect, and child welfare policy. It is also committed to working towards public policies that promote child abuse prevention and address reforms in the juvenile dependency and foster care systems.

An Attorney’s Impact on Youth in Care

As an attorney, you bring a powerful voice to the table and can help change a child’s story in a multitude of ways. If you are working in dependency, a referral for your child or youth to have a CASA volunteer can make a lasting difference. If you are not working in dependency, consider volunteering with CASA and working with a local child or youth in care. Additionally, share about CASA with your colleagues, in hopes of each child in foster care receiving a referral and having the benefit of a CASA volunteer on their case.

CASA of Contra Costa County provides a unique blend of evidence-based services and advocacy for youth in foster care, and the outcomes are both meaningful and measurable. Youth in foster care are often in the pipeline for homelessness, prison, and poverty, but by working together we can interrupt this progression with programs that truly address their needs and prepare them to become successful adults.

When you volunteer or refer a child or youth to CASA, you are making a difference for not only that child, but for their family and for generations to come. CASA’s programs address factors that often lead to poverty and help children and youth move forward to a more stable future.

In this past fiscal year, CASA of Contra Costa County has served 225 local children and youth. With your referrals and support, CASA can help even more children in care who would benefit from a CASA volunteer.

To learn more, or to volunteer, visit our website www.cccocasa.org or email [email protected]

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