Hurting to Happy: A story of CASA Advocacy
Trenton missed his parents. He didn’t like it when they used drugs, but he still loved them. When he went into foster care, he had to move. Trenton couldn’t focus at his new school.
His little sister Tierra missed her mom and didn’t understand why they didn’t see her very much. Tierra had a lot of ear infections and cried at night with pain.
In the family court system, Trenton and Tierra were just two of hundreds of children to be managed by a DHS case worker and a judge. But Barbara, their Court Appointed Special Advocate, or CASA, knew that these kids were more than just a number. They were unique and special children with specific needs. Without Barbara’s care and advocacy, they could get lost in the system.
Barbara regularly met with everyone in Trenton and Tierra’s lives, including their foster parents, birth parents, and therapists, to give a full report on the children to the court. She advocated for the kids outside of court, attending parent-teacher conferences and enrolling Trenton in after-school activities. When Tierra’s doctor recommended that she get tubes in her ears to treat her chronic ear infections, Barbara followed up with the paperwork to get the procedure approved and scheduled.
While Barbara watched the kids grow and learn, she also saw their mom working to get her life back on track. When their mom left her abusive partner and created a stable home, Barbara recommended to the court that the children should be reunited with their mother.
Not long ago Barbara visited Trenton and Tierra in their new home. Trenton was smiling and doing well in school. Tierra showed off her new room and hadn’t had an ear ache in months. Their mother gave Barbara a hug and thanked her for being there for the kids. Barbara left knowing her advocacy had helped an angry boy and a hurting girl transform into two happy, healthy children.
You're Invited to Lift Up at The Loft, a fundraiser for CASA of Central Oregon
Over 500 Central Oregon children will spend time in foster care this year. CASA of Central Oregon recruits, trains and supports volunteer advocates who advocate on behalf of these children. CASA advocates work in the courts and throughout the community to ensure that every child in foster care in Central Oregon can transition into a safe and permanent home.
You can support children in foster care on October 17th at Lift Up at The Loft, a fundraiser to benefit CASA of Central Oregon. The event will be from 5 - 7 pm at The Loft of Bend.
The evening will feature a hosted bar, hors d'oeuvre and the opportunity to make a difference for children in foster care.
Guest column: Support more statewide funding for CASA
By Jenna App, the executive director of CASA of Central Oregon
Published July 14, 2018 by The Bend Bulletin
A federal judge recently rejected the Trump Administration’s request to allow long-term detention of illegal immigrant children.
While this is an encouraging step in the right direction, it is disheartening that the administration is still defending its policy to separate children from their families, even after the president’s vow to end the practice.
The administration has now missed the deadline to reunify the youngest detainees with relatives, a not unexpected turn of events in this saga.
As a professional organization that works in the field of child abuse, CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) of Central Oregon stands with other child welfare organizations that have voiced outrage at the inhumane separation of innocent children from their parents at the southern border.
Because of the well-established, long-term impacts of childhood trauma, including the trauma of being separated from family, one of the guiding principles at CASA is that children are better off when they remain with their families of origin if safely possible.
The judge’s recent decision makes clear that Trump’s recent declaration to end the inhumane practice of separating families will not help reunite the more than 2,300 children currently being warehoused without their families, some of whom are now in Oregon.
Because these children are in federal custody and subject to federal immigration laws, they are not subject to the state law that requires a child to be appointed a CASA.
If the American child welfare model had proven to be efficient, compassionate and effective, CASA of Central Oregon would perhaps be content that these injustices would be quickly fixed.
But sadly, that is far from the reality. National news put a lens on the tragedy at the border but rarely puts a lens on the local children who, every day, go without an advocate to speak up for them.
We Oregonians must do better than this.
In many states throughout the country, CASA programs are fully supported by public funding. It is not acceptable that statewide funding for CASA in Oregon is so small that despite vigorous fundraising and grant writing to make up the shortages, about 60
percent of the 11,000 children in foster care across the state are on a wait list for a CASA advocate — an individual who, by state law, shall advocate for the child’s best interest in all court proceedings.
If we cannot fully serve these young citizens who are victims of abuse or neglect, how on earth do we presume we can care for thousands of innocent children separated from their relatives at the border?
It is everyone’s responsibility to speak up for all children who are hurting and who are without a voice. It should be the culture of our country and our citizens to do so without hesitation, regardless of the politics or circumstances.
Please continue to be outraged at the cruel treatment of children all over the world — and please consider what you can do right here in our community to make a real difference.
CASA of Central Oregon has offices in Madras, Prineville and Bend, and will train and support over 140 community volunteers who will serve the more than 550 local children expected to spend time in foster care this year due to abuse or neglect.
For more information on how to make a difference here in Central Oregon, please visit casaofcentraloregon.org (http://casaofcentraloregon.org).
Guest column: Children need CASA
by Sarah Graziani is a CASA of Central Oregon volunteer advocate.
Published May 24, 2018 by The Bend Bulletin
The case of Bradley Thomas, the child who was found in the woods after being abandoned by his father, has made national news headlines.
While it is a distressing story, there are many children just like Bradley whose stories do not receive any media attention. There are 318 children in the foster care system in Central Oregon, and every week that number is growing — 28 children entered foster care in the past four weeks. Central Oregon is on track to have more than 550 children spend time in foster care this year, a record.
CASA of Central Oregon is a local nonprofit that is appointed by a judge to every single child who enters the foster care system in Deschutes, Crook and Jefferson counties. At this time, there are 53 children waiting for an advocate. Having a volunteer to be a voice
for these children and advocate for their best interests within our courts and the foster care system is crucial to their well-being. The National CASA Association website states:
“Children with a court-appointed special advocate are more likely to find a safe, permanent home and are half as likely to reenter foster care. Children with CASA volunteers get more help while in the system and more services are ordered for the children. They are more likely to have a consistent, responsible adult presence as volunteers spend significantly more time with the child than a caseworker or paid guardian ad litem. Children with a CASA spend less time in foster care. ‘It is quite remarkable that children without CASA involvement are spending an average of over eight months longer in care, compared to children having CASA involvement.’
Children with CASA volunteers are also less likely to bounce from home to home and they do better in school.
They are more likely to pass classes and less likely to have poor conduct in school or be expelled. Children with a CASA score better on nine protective factors including: neighborhood resources, interested adults, sense of acceptance, controls against deviant
behavior, models of conventional behavior, positive attitude towards the future, valuing achievement, the ability to work with others and the ability to work out conflicts.”
As the rate of children in care rises, so does the need for more volunteer advocates and the funds to recruit, train and support them. Our local CASA program is given enough funds by the state to advocate for just 10 percent of the children in care.
The need is great, and the need is growing. So, when you hear a story like young Bradley’s, and you wonder what you can do to help, think of all the nameless and faceless children in our community who are in need of a voice, and consider joining us by becoming a volunteer advocate or by making a financial contribution to CASA of Central Oregon so every abused and neglected child just like Bradley can have an advocate speaking up for them.
Visit casaofcentraloregon.org (http://casaofcentraloregon.org) to learn more about volunteering and/or donating. You can call the office at 541-389-1618.
Guest column: Tell state government to stop underfunding child welfare
by Jenna App
This article was originally published as a guest column for The Bulletin on February 17, 2018
The Secretary of State recently released a scathing audit of the Department of Human Services’ foster care system. As executive director at Court Appointed Special Advocates of Central Oregon, this assessment did not come as a surprise to me. The systemic failures within the child welfare system throughout Oregon is a constant source of heartache for CASA staff and for our 147 local volunteers here in Central Oregon. At CASA, we are required by state law to recruit, train and support volunteers who advocate for the best interests of children in foster care, both in the courtroom, and throughout the wider community.
At CASA, we see children and families at their most vulnerable, when safety nets have failed, extended family is not able or willing to help, and when the regular, daily challenges of safely raising children have simply overwhelmed parents. Sometimes this inability to safely parent is related to untreated mental health issues, sometimes substance abuse, and many times it is a toxic combination of several different stressors. Although at CASA we are often critical of DHS, I want to emphasize that we do not see children routinely removed from their homes without real and tangible threats to the children’s immediate safety, and I am concerned that this criticism is a red herring that might serve to obscure the real and very solvable problems in Oregon’s child welfare system.
For far too long, the Oregon Legislature has underfunded all efforts around child welfare. Throughout Oregon, there is a lack of services and supports that could help keep children safely in their own homes, and this is particularly true once you leave the Interstate-5 corridor. Further, DHS caseworkers in Central Oregon often have twice the recommended caseload, and as a result, caseworker turnover is shockingly high. Foster parent recruitment and training has failed to grow or respond to the reality of households where both adults are in the workforce. This means that many households are simply unable to afford to be a foster placement, as childcare expenses are not currently a part of the foster care reimbursement. Further, many children who enter the foster care system have experienced significant trauma in their young lives, and those children must receive all needed services to build resilience, promote recovery and allow the child to succeed in a family setting.
CASA — the one program that consistently shows it can reduce the total months of time in foster care, thereby reducing childhood trauma and saving state funds — is woefully underfunded. How underfunded? In 2017, due to the $1.4 billion deficit, all Oregon CASA programs received less money than the year before (continuing a disturbing downward trend), despite serving more children.
his year, CASA of Central Oregon expects to be appointed to serve over 500 children. This biennium, the Legislature appropriated just 8 percent ($137 per child) of what it costs to ensure that every local child in foster care can receive all needed physical and mental health services and has a trained, supported, trauma-informed and background-checked volunteer who will take the time to get to know the child and his or her unique situation — and then advocate for that child’s best interest in all court proceedings.
While CASA is an efficient program, this lack of state support is a real limit to our ability to serve all children in foster care. National CASA standards do not allow us to add volunteers if we lack the paid staff to train and support those volunteers as they embark on the complicated and intense experience of advocating for a child in foster care.
So what can you do to help? Please think about becoming a foster parent or serving as a CASA volunteer. Also, please let your elected officials know that you are paying attention to this crisis, and that it rests with them to end the “penny-wise and pound foolish” cycle of underfunding child welfare.
— Jenna App is the executive director of Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children of Central Oregon.