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 (18 hours in person and 12 hours online). 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 8 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.1 The 0-5 year olds program promotes the healthy development and kindergarten readiness of children 0-5 years of age. We support our CASAs by offering training in early childhood milestones, preschool enrollment, staff/advocate capacity building, as well as offering community resource sharing and supportive connections.
1 (n.d.). Brain Architecture – Center on the Developing Child at …. Retrieved April 16, 2020, from https://developingchild.harvard.edu/science/key-concepts/brain-architecture/
An important part of growing up is learning to interact and socialize with others.1 Therefore, while school remains an important part of a child’s life, socialization becomes a focus point. The 6-12 year olds program promotes increased CASA engagement with the educational needs of their advocate children, with a specific emphasis on literacy. Additionally, this program offers opportunities for creative outlets for this age group. CASAs receive tools and training needed to quickly identify educational challenges and provide targeted interventions to bring their kids to parity with non-dependent peers.
1 (n.d.). The Growing Child: School-Age (6 to 12 Years). Retrieved April 16, 2020, from https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=the-growing-child-school-age-6-to-12-years-90-P02278
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.1 The Teens program promotes our CASA’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 Bridge to High School, High School, College and Training school graduation, and support for High school completion and college applications will be offered.
A non-minor dependent (NMD)—is a current dependent child or ward of the juvenile court, or a non-minor under the transition jurisdiction of the juvenile court.2 The NMD program promotes our CASA’s ability to support Non-Minor Dependents in the key areas of academics, employment and housing. We support CASAs by offering 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 to be on parity with their peers by the age of 21.
1 (2014, May 13). Social & Teenage Development – Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved April 16, 2020, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/9983-social-development-during-the-teen-years
2 (n.d.). Extended Foster Care in California | Juvenile Law Center. Retrieved April 16, 2020, from https://jlc.org/issues/extended-foster-care/california
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 hospitalizations, as measured by discharges.1 The Mental Health/Behavioral Health program offers workshops for CASAs to 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 will utilize this training for advocating on behalf of the youth to the other team members..
1 “Mental Health Issues Account for Largest … – Kidsdata.org.” 15 May. 2019, https://www.kidsdata.org/blog/?p=8809. Accessed 12 May. 2020.
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.1 THE DV/SA program supports CASAs by promoting a trauma informed advocacy approach, providing training and resources in best practices, and connecting CASAs to countywide resiliency and trauma informed initiatives.
1 (n.d.). Statistics | The National Domestic Violence Hotline. Retrieved April 16, 2020, from https://www.thehotline.org/resources/statistics/
Because this group of children are involved in two legal systems, they are called “dually-involved youth.” A significant number of DIY have been affected by some form of childhood trauma and they are often underserved as they move between the juvenile justice and child welfare systems.1 The DIY program supports CASAs by providing workshops and discussion groups as sounding boards for these assignments, providing resources and connections and initiating a warm hand off to the juvenile justice programs so CASAs can continue to work with their youth in a supportive way.
1 (2019, April 3). Who are dually-involved youth? And why do we need DIY …. Retrieved April 16, 2020, from https://crimlawandpolicy.wordpress.com/2019/04/03/who-are-dually-involved-youth-and-why-do-we-need-diy-courts/
More than 10 percent of kids under 5 in California have a disability or special need that may impact their ability to play and learn.1 Our Special Needs program promotes the capacity of CASAs to effectively advocate for children with special needs, engage children and CASAs in social and learning opportunities, and collaborates with systems and providers to ensure access to and coordination of services.
1 (n.d.). Extra Special Love & Care – First 5 California. Retrieved April 16, 2020, from http://www.first5california.com/health-center.aspx?id=6&sub=28
Compared with other students, negative attitudes toward LGB persons may put these youth at increased risk for experiences with violence. ‘Violence’ can include behaviors such as bullying, teasing, harassment, and physical assault.1 The LGBTQ+ program provides resources and connections for CASAs assigned to youth that identify as part of this population, as well as promoting the well-being of youth themselves by ensuring CASAs have the knowledge, skills and resources necessary to effectively meet their needs.