May 28, 2018
Marin Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA): Providing a Voice for Youth in Marin’s Child Welfare System
May 28, 2018
By Nestor Schnasse
I was introduced to Marin CASA by a fellow Scout leader who happens to work with the Marin Community Foundation. We share an interest in supporting Marin’s youth and their families through various BSA programs, and our discussion turned one day to an issue that deserves greater attention: children who need an advocate.
Here’s a fact that may come as a shock: every year in Marin County, over one thousand reports of suspected child abuse, neglect and abandonment are called into the County’s hotline. Today, approximately one hundred children are in the Marin County child welfare system.
Through no fault of their own, many of these children have been removed from their home — sometimes separated from siblings — and placed in the foster care system. It’s heartbreaking to imagine the fear, anxiety, disappointment, worry and shame those children endure, and their need for support is obvious. A Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer can play a key role in the process by providing a voice in the courtroom, and a consistent, reliable adult presence during an unstable time.
Marin CASA’s Executive Director, Robyn Roberts, explained to me that the program recruits, screens, trains and supervises volunteer advocates. Its mission, she continued, “is to provide a voice for abused, neglected, and abandoned children in the Marin Juvenile Court system.” CASA volunteers build a supportive and enduring relationship with each child, identify critical needs, and then advocate on the child’s behalf for medical, dental, mental health or education services in addition to permanency planning and placement.
Marin CASA is one of nearly a thousand CASA programs, a national volunteer movement. The concept began in 1976, when Seattle Superior Court Judge David Soukup founded the program based on his experience in the courtroom. As he was determining life-changing outcomes for children who had experienced abuse and neglect, he looked around the courtroom and saw there was no one there who could speak for the child. In 1977, Judge Soukup formed the first CASA program, and since then communities across the country have formed a national network of CASA programs to serve children in need.
The National CASA Association reports that children with access to a volunteer are more likely to be adopted, half as likely to re-enter foster care, more likely to have a plan for permanency and more likely to have improved educational performance.
In Marin County, a CASA volunteer is appointed to every dependency case (as well as traditional delinquency and probate guardianship cases as requested by the judge) in the Marin Juvenile Court system, serving children and youth zero to 21 years of age throughout the County. Marin CASA provides its volunteers with training, ongoing supervision, support and continuing education to make sure they know how to work within the child welfare and court systems to advocate for the best interests of children.
As our conversation came to a close, Robyn shared the program’s vision, which resonated with me as both a parent and youth program volunteer. Marin CASA, she said, “believes that every child deserves to be safe and treated with respect and dignity, every child has the right to a loving home where they can grow and learn, and every child should have the opportunity to become a successful, contributing member of our community.”