Each year, more than 600,000 children experience foster care in this country. The child welfare system is overburdened, struggling to meet the needs of children in foster care.
CASA, which stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates, is a community-driven solution to help kids through that overburdened system, and to help them find permanent, safe and stable homes. CASA began in 1977 when a Seattle juvenile court judge became concerned about making decisions on children’s cases with insufficient information. The judge conceived the idea of community volunteers speaking up for abused and neglected children in the courtroom. The idea spread quickly.
Washoe CASA was founded in 1990 as a program of the Second Judicial District Court, and is a part of a national network that operates in 49 states. The CASA mission is to advocate for the best interests of children who are under the protection of the juvenile court, seeking to assure safe, permanent families for them as quickly as possible.
In Washoe County, there are approximately 900 children who are in foster care because it is no longer safe for them to remain in their home. Once a child is removed from their home, a CASA volunteer can be assigned by the judge overseeing the child’s case. This CASA then becomes immersed in the child’s life getting to know not just them but all those around them such as their parents, relatives, foster parents, teachers, attorneys, social workers and counselors. CASAs become a pillar of stability in this child’s life during a truly difficult time. They serve as the child’s voice. And, they use the insights they’ve gained into the child’s life to inform the presiding judge about what the child needs, acting in their best interests.
CASA provides many children with the chance at a brighter future, a safer home and less time inside of the child welfare system. However, Washoe County has more foster children than our CASAs can serve. While there are many advocacy organizations available, the thing that makes Washoe CASA unique is that it gives everyday citizens the ability to speak up for court-involved children. You can help provide a voice for children in our community who need your help. After a potential CASA goes through a background check and commits to approximately two years of service, they go through a 40-hour training program to help prepare them for the important role. CASAs come from a variety of professional and educational backgrounds, as it is not necessary to have prior legal training.
There are 95 Washoe CASA volunteers serving 145 children in Washoe County today. Even with the presence of a child’s attorney, at least one third of the children in foster care in Washoe County lack a legal advocate to stand for them to ensure the services and support they need.
Through CASA, volunteers have the ability to positively affect the life and future of children in need. Judges, attorneys, caseworkers and parents report that CASA volunteers make a big difference with the children they serve. Research also shows that a child with a CASA is less likely to remain in the foster care system. CASAs help the child they are assigned to receive more services within the system and help to improve their educational outcomes. As a Washoe CASA volunteer, you can give foster children a voice and a chance at a better life.
The Washoe CASA Foundation supports the Washoe County CASA Program through fundraising, advocacy, outreach and community awareness. To learn more about volunteering, donating or becoming involved as a corporate partner, please contact the Washoe CASA Foundation at 775-574-8820 or visit washoecasafoundation.com.