The goal of our Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) Program is to ensure every child in the Santa Clara County Dependency Court System (foster care) has a caring, stable adult in their life to mitigate the effects of having experienced abuse, neglect, and/or abandonment.
As an affiliate of the National Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) Association, we are responsible for adhering to the national guidelines when training, recruiting and supporting CASA Volunteers in Santa Clara County.
A Responsibility We Take Seriously
All CASA Volunteers are trained community members who are appointed with a court order by a judge to advocate for the best interests of a child in foster care. They stay with each case for up to a year or until the case is closed and the child is in a safe, permanent home. CASA Volunteers work with legal and child welfare professionals, educators, service providers and family members to ensure the child’s voice is heard. Their advocacy enables judges to make the most well-informed decision for each child.
A CASA Volunteer’s advocacy can change the life trajectory of a child in foster care.
It is our job to ensure our CASA Volunteers are the right people for the job and receive the training and support needed to succeed. To become a CASA Volunteer, candidates are required to attend an info session, participate in face-to-face interviews, pass an extensive background check and attend 30 hours of training (currently conducted via webinars and online classes). Only then are they able to select and get appointed to a case and begin their advocacy.
Our CASA Volunteers Show Up, Stand Up & Lift Up.
Once appointed to a case, our CASA Volunteers are expected and supported to:
Our CASA Volunteers are encouraged to be a stable, caring adult for the child they serve; they build a one-to-one trusted relationship and consistently show up by planning weekly in- person visits and activities.
Our CASA Volunteers are expected to advocate for the child’s best interests within the foster care system, ensuring the child gets the services and resources they’re entitled to and would benefit from. Regardless of the issue, CASA volunteers have to stand up for the child they serve.
Be a Voice
Our CASA Volunteers submit written reports directly to the court and can attend hearings to speak on behalf of the child before the judge. These reports assist the judge in making decisions that will hopefully lift up the child.
Studies show children with a CASA Volunteer receive more educational and health services; are more likely to find a safe, permanent home; perform better in school; and spend less time in foster care than children without a CASA Volunteer.
Giving Children the Support They Need
In addition to adhering to the national guidelines, we have identified and dedicated resources to eight specialty areas of support to better serve our children. We believe the resources we provide in these 10 specialty areas can be instrumental in helping a CASA Volunteer when helping a child overcome the effects of having experienced trauma.
Early experiences affect the development of brain architecture, which provides the foundation for all future learning, behavior and health. The 0-5-year-old specialty area promotes the healthy development and kindergarten readiness of children 0-5 years of age. We support our Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Volunteers by offering training in early childhood milestones, support for preschool enrollment, staff/CASA capacity building, as well as offering community resource sharing and supportive connections to ensure access to and coordination of services.
The 6-12-year-old specialty area is built on the foundation of providing educational support and enrichment activities, connection to socialization opportunities and programs, incorporating Social Emotional Learning training and techniques, and healthy lifestyles inclusive of both mental and physical health. This specialty area promotes our Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Volunteer’s ability to support 6-12-year-old youth in the key areas of educational needs, creative outlets and socialization. CASAs receive tools and training needed to quickly identify educational, social-emotional and health challenges and provide targeted interventions.
Adolescence is the period of developmental transition between childhood and adulthood. It involves changes in personality, as well as in physical, intellectual and social development. The Teens (ages 13 – 17) specialty area supports our Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Volunteer’s expertise by providing training in how to properly support teens in the key areas of academics, personal growth and transitional needs. Offerings include interactive workshops, CASA discussion groups and support from our community partners. Special events such as Hero Scholars, graduations for high school and support for high school completion and college applications are offered.
A Non-Minor Dependent (NMD) is a current non-minor under the jurisdiction of the Dependency Court. The NMD specialty area promotes our Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Volunteer’s ability to support NMDs in the key areas of: academics, employment, financial literacy and housing. Offerings include interactive workshops, discussion groups and activities for both CASAs and NMDs to attend. By participating in these services and activities, CASAs are better able to assist NMDs in maintaining their status and benefits within the dependency system.
One study in North America found that children who were exposed to violence in the home were 15 times more likely to be physically and/or sexually assaulted than the national average. The Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault specialty area promotes safety planning, education and awareness of domestic violence and sexual assault trends. The Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault specialty area supports Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Volunteers by promoting a trauma informed advocacy approach, providing training and resources in best practices, and connecting CASAs to countywide resiliency and trauma informed initiatives.
Some dependency youth are involved in two legal systems, therefore they’re called “Dually Involved Youth”. The DIY program promotes the prevention of justice involvement and the continued education support for those already involved. The specialty area supports Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Volunteers by providing informational workshops and discussion groups for these assignments, as well as resources, collaborations and connections with Juvenile Justice programs so CASAs can continue to work with their youth in a supportive strength based way.
Mental & Behavioral Health
The highest percentage of hospitalizations among youth ages 0-17 in California was for mental health reasons in 2017. Mental diseases and disorders accounted for 14% of hospitalization, as measured by discharges. Our Mental & Behavioral Health specialty area helps Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Volunteers understand how to recognize signs that may indicate the need for intervention and works with CASAs to engage children/youth in therapy. Additionally, when a youth has a specific mental or behavioral health consideration, CASAs learn how to advocate on behalf of the youth with other team members.
More than 10% of kids under 5 in California have a disability or special need that may impact their ability to play and learn. Our Special Needs specialty area promotes the capacity of CASAs to effectively advocate for children with special needs, engages children and CASAs in social and learning opportunities and collaborates with systems and providers to ensure access to and coordination of services.
Being in the dependency system is traumatic enough for most children and teens, but LGBTQ+ foster youth have the added layer of trauma that comes with being rejected or mistreated because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.
The LGBTQ+ specialty area promotes cultural competence in the issues our youth face. We focus on areas of concern for our youth and best practices for working through these barriers. Additionally, Child Advocates of Silicon Valley strives to ensure that we have a strong sense of community within our organization and connections to the greater LGBTQ+ community. Lastly, Child Advocates continues its recognition as an Innovative participant in the All Children – All Families Project, part of the Human Rights Campaign.
Educational stability and continuity are key factors in a student’s long-term and overall success, including: graduating with a high school diploma, obtaining post secondary education and maintaining stable employment.
We provide our Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Volunteers with training and 1-to-1 consultations around educational support. Our training includes updated mandates and rights afforded to children who are considered foster youth. We also train in roles and responsibilities in regard to Student Support Teams (SST) and special education services.
Studies have shown that adolescent girls in foster care are more than twice as likely as their peers not in foster care to become pregnant by age 19, and half of 21-year-old men aging out of foster care report they had gotten someone pregnant, compared to 19 percent of their peers who were not in the system. Adolescence is a time for youth to explore their identity and values. Often this occurs in the context of peer relationships but parents and other adult figures remain influential. The Reproductive Health and Teen Parent specialty area promotes education and awareness of local laws impacting youth 12 years and older.