HOW THE MOST SACRED COW IN CHILD WELFARE HURTS THE CHILDREN IT IS MEANT TO HELP
The trade journal Youth Today aptly summed up the appeal of the Court-Appointed Special Advocates Program, noting that CASA
“Couldn’t sound more apple pie, more thousand points of light. CASAs are a cadre of 74,000 volunteers trained for dozens of hours, then dispatched to conduct independent investigations of child abuse and to represent the children’s interests in courts around the nation. What could be wrong with that?”
Plenty, it turns out; much of it revealed by the most comprehensive evaluation of CASA ever done, an evaluation commissioned by the National CASA Association itself. As Youth Today noted, the report “delivers some surprisingly damning numbers.”
A Youth Today columnist aptly summed up the findings this way:
“The more rigorous evaluation … not only challenged the effectiveness of the court volunteers’ services, but suggested that they spend little time on cases, particularly those of black children, and are associated with more removals from the home and fewer efforts to reunite children with parents or relatives.”
In short, CASA is one more thumb tilting the scales of justice against families.
None of this should come as a surprise. Like most people in child welfare, CASA volunteers and the paid staff who support them at the local and national level mean well; they really want to do what’s best for vulnerable children. And a few CASA chapters have avoided the problems discussed here. But children suffer enormously from CASA’s well-meaning blunders.
The problems are built into the CASA model. Who has time to spend even 4.3 hours a month on a case? Certainly not a poor person holding down two jobs. So it’s no wonder CASA programs sometimes are pet projects of the local Junior League and the demographics of CASAs tend to be vastly different from the demographics of the families they judge.All over America, CASA volunteers, who are mostly middle class and 90 percent white, march into the homes of people who are overwhelmingly poor and disproportionately minority. Then, the CASAs pass judgment on the families and recommend whether they ever should get their children back. The CASA is the de-facto judge, since the real judges almost always rubber-stamp their recommendations.
Rather than respond to the findings of its own study by cleaning up its act, CASA tried first to spin the results and then to bury them. Youth Today concluded that CASA’s spin “can border on duplicity.”
The study was consigned to an obscure corner of a website meant primarily for CASAs themselves, then removed entirely. That’s why NCCPR has made it available here!
The study isn’t the only evidence of the bias that permeates CASA:
The local CASA director said she was mortified when someone explained what the surname meant. Other than that though, she gave the performance a rave review, telling a local news website: “The part of his act I felt was excellent was the dancing. It was good dancing. The back-up singers were gorgeous and could probably back up any professional. … We may change some things. We may not. We certainly don’t want to offend anybody.” As for the blackface, the CASA director said she didn’t think the mayor was trying to portray a different race: “It wasn’t black black,” she said. “It was all really just tan.” It was not until after the National CASA Association went into damage control mode and set up a conference call with the local chapter, the state chapter and the local NAACP that the local chapter apologized.
Children do need a voice in court – a real one. From the age a child is old enough to express a rational preference she or he should get a lawyer to fight for that preference. That doesn’t mean children always should get what they want. But the best way to find out what truly is best for a child is if everyone has an articulate advocate making his or her case. Deciding what is best is what we pay judges for. It’s time we stopped ceding that role to amateurs.
For more about CASA see these poststo the sister site at NCCPR Child Welfare Blog.
My own commentary in this article: While in past times I would have not condoned the behavior of CASA and never really being representible in child cases with DFACS and the way they handled themselves professionally and legally on the side mostly with DFACS workers and in that I don’t think CASA workers were fully kept up to date by case workers on how these cases were actually doing, being led by a blind eye hence, not being totally informed of all aspects of the cases alone.
I think times are changing and CASA volunteers are really going to bat for parents and in working for what is in the best interest of the child, and that is a PLUS in my book. In my opinion, I don’t know that back then that casa workers were being told what to do by case workers and not putting their own views and being led in the wrong direction. I am really glad to see that many of our CASA workers believe in the parents (for the most part) and willing to help them instead of hurting them (economically and mentally,socially and physically) I am really glad to see that CASA is on a good standing point with court tactics and dfacs protocol and making things work better for the child welfare system. Children do need a voice and if we don’t step up and provide one these children will just fall through the cracks and nothing will ever be done about how people are handling this situation.