CASA - Court Appointed Special Advocate.
WHAT IS A CASA?
The idea of a court appointed special advocate (CASA)) was inspired in 1977 by Judge David Soukup, who envisioned a system that assigned a volunteer to the cases of the vulnerable children in care. He believed that an individual CASA, who typically only had one or two children on their “case load,” could become a valuable advocate for the kids.
More than 40 years later, there are over 85,000 CASA advocates across the entire country, advocating for the needs of children. CASAs are assigned to cases by a court order and are responsible for submitting observations and recommendations to the court on a regular basis.
Before being legally sworn in in front of a judge, CASAs undergo 30 hours of relevant training to prepare them for the job of being a child advocate. While they are serving as a CASA, each of them participate in several additional in-service trainings throughout each year to help them stay up to date on best practices. All of this training helps to make sure the CASA is advocating in a way that is educated and informed.
With all of that that in mind, if your foster child(ren) has a CASA assigned to them, it’s important to intentionally partner with them, as you seek to work together for the best interest of the child(ren).
Here are five things you can do to partner with your foster child’s CASA
01. SPEAK OPENLY AND HONESTLY WITH THEM.
In the classic comedy film, “Meet The Parents,” the patriarchal character Jack Byrnes (played by Robert De Niro), kept his immediate family close by including them in what he called “the circle of trust.” While your child’s CASA is not a member of your family, it would be a good thing to bring them in to your own “circle of trust” as it relates to any issues concerning your foster child(ren). As one of the biggest advocates for the children in your care, it only makes sense to have an open and honest relationship with them. The fuller and more accurate of a picture they have, the better they can help you advocate for the best interest of your foster child(ren). Don’t be afraid to bring them into your circle.
02. ENCOURAGE YOUR FOSTER CHILD TO SPEAK OPENLY & HONESTLY WITH THEM.
As you consider bringing your child’s CASA into your own circle of trust, encourage your foster child(ren) to do the same. Often it is difficult for children and even teenagers to verbalize their thoughts and concerns to an adult. That is understandable, but regardless, it is absolutely crucial that foster kids open up to their CASA. They have court appointed authority and resources at their disposal that can significantly help fulfill the needs of a child. Encourage your kids to fight through the shyness — fight through the awkwardness — fight through the fear and speak openly with their CASA.
03. ALLOW THEM TO SPEAK TO THE CHILDREN PRIVATELY.
This can be a tough one (believe me, I know), but allow your foster child(ren) to speak with their CASA privately. This will not only build trust between your children and their CASA, but also between you and their CASA. When a resource parent is insistent that she or he remain present while the CASA is speaking with the child, it can lead to feelings of mistrust between the CASA and the parent. This can lead to fairly significant problems down the road when large decisions have to be made regarding the well-being and permanency of the child(ren). The CASA is there to help — to advocate — let them speak with the child privately.
04. INCLUDE THEM IN ON EVERYTHING.
My foster kid’s CASA worker gets a whole lot of email from me. I keep her in the loop on every issue related to our foster kids — big and small. If I’m emailing the child’s case worker or social worker or the guardian ad litem, I always “CC” the CASA in. I want her to be aware of and familiar with everything going on, so that when it is her turn to stand before a judge at a permanency review hearing, she can speak with full knowledge, as she advocates for our girls. Don’t worry about sending them too much email. It would be far worse to not send them enough. Keep em’ in the loop!
05. APPRECIATE THEM AS A VOLUNTEER.
Did you know that your foster child’s CASA doesn’t get paid a dime? CASA workers are volunteers and receive no salary from the CASA organization, nor are they permitted to receive monetary gifts from their clients or client’s family. That said, it’s important to let your child’s CASA worker know that you appreciate them and are grateful to have them advocating for your child(ren). Look for creative ways to show that appreciation to them.
A FINAL THOUGHT
No CASA is perfect — no resource parent is perfect — and there may be times where you adamantly disagree with the CASA worker on what is in the child’s best interest. This can be frustrating, but it’s important that you share your concerns openly with them. Make sure that they know your opinion — make sure they are aware that there is a disagreement. Listen carefully to, and honestly consider their opinion, but be willing to also advocate for your own. Don’t do anything to intentionally and unnecessarily hurt the relationship you have with your child’s CASA.
CASA’s are in a unique position of influence. It’s important for foster parents to partner well with the CASA and work together to advocate for the best interest of the child(ren). Because, as we all know, at the end of the day it’s never about us — it’s always about the kids.
by Arthur C Woods, CASA & Foster Dad
This article originally appeared in the Jan/Feb 2020 issues of
Fostering Families Today Magazine.