Emma and her CASA Denise have a special bond. This video shows the power that a CASA has a child's life.
CASA Of Central Oregon: A Voice For Children
BY ANNETTE BENEDETTI
Published on January 20, 2019 in the Bend Nest
This year alone, approximately 500 abused and neglected children in Crook, Deschutes and Jefferson counties spent time in foster care. Many of them have gone, or will go through, multiple foster placements before the courts determine their final destination. Without a loving parent or family member to speak up for their best interests, their lives are in the hands of individuals who may spend less than an hour or two speaking with them before determining their futures. Fortunately, there are advocates whose sole purpose is to give a voice to children in foster care. They are the court-appointed special advocates of Central Oregon.
In an over-burdened child welfare system, it's easy for a child's needs to be overlooked. CASA of Central Oregon is a nonprofit that supports children as they make their way through the foster care and family court system. The organization's vision is for all children to be safe, treated with dignity and respect and to learn and grow in the home of a loving family. CASA of Central Oregon's Development Director Heather McPherson says, "We work towards our vision by recruiting, training and supporting volunteers who advocate for the best interests of abused and neglected children in the court system."
Read the rest of the article at the Bend Nest website.
So You’re in Business, How Do You Give Back?
BY BILL MINTIENS CBN FEATURE WRITER
Published on December 19, 2018 in the Cascade Business News
CASA May Have the Answer
“We all decide whether we want to give back — and how to do it. If you can make a difference in young peoples’ lives you make a difference for a lifetime,” said Don Bauhofer, president of the Pennbrook Company, a real estate development company in Central Oregon. “That’s what drives me.”
Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA’s) are ordinary citizens from all walks of life who have dedicated themselves to protecting the rights of children who have been removed from their parents’ home. Reasons for removal can be anything from neglect to sexual, physical or emotional abuse.
CASA volunteers — after background checks, training and being sworn-in by a judge — make sure that children don’t get lost in the legal and social service system into which they have been thrust.
As volunteers they take neither the parents’ nor the new foster parents’ side, they simply act as a professional community member who is looking at the situation and advocating for what is in the best interest of the child.
The number of foster children is increasing
“As the population in Central Oregon has grown over the last few years so has the number of foster children,” said Heather McPherson, development director with CASA of Central Oregon. Over the course of 2018 about 500 kids have been in foster care in Deschutes, Jefferson and Crook Counties. About 440 of them had their own assigned CASA, the remaining 60 are “monitored” by CASA staff.
Monitoring means that CASA ensures that every foster child is represented throughout the legal process — but assigning a staff member, particularly when staff is lean, is not the same as having a dedicated CASA assigned to the child. “We’ve been pretty fortunate over the last couple of years with the number of CASA volunteers we have,” said McPherson. “I believe it’s the largest number of advocates that we’ve ever had — but we’re still not able to serve all the children.”
So what exactly do CASA volunteers do?
You first need to understand how the social service and legal systems operate when abuse or neglect is reported through a “referral.”
The Department of Human Services (DHS) in coordination with local law enforcement, investigates “referral” reports in a home. These can come from neighbors, family members, police, teachers, doctors, hospitals — anyone who has come into contact with a child and feels that a child is in danger. If it’s determined that abuse or neglect exists, the child is removed from the home immediately and, within 24 hours a “shelter hearing” takes place in which a judge usually grants temporary custody to DHS. The Judge also appoints a lawyer to the child as well as a CASA.
DHS’s responsibility is to find a safe foster home for the child, first with a local relative if possible because it’s better for the child. Emergency foster certification is quicker and easier as well. Within one week there’s another court hearing to determine if the child should become a “ward of the court.” While the goal is always to reunite the child with his or her parents, the remedial steps parents have to take to create a safe environment typically do not happen quickly.
Once the child is in foster care the CASA steps in, with background information provided by DHS and a lawyer, to “soak up” and understand the child’s world. The CASA develops a personal relationship with everyone in the child’s world so that he or she can objectively advocate for the child’s best interests when reporting to the court.
The beauty of being a CASA is that you get to have a relationship with the kids, to make a difference for them that affects the rest of their lives. And you have a direct line of communication with a judge.
Here’s an example
You’re reading the Cascade Business News so you’re likely working for a Central Oregon business — or perhaps you own one. And you’re busy. Work, family, recreation, maybe even a board position with local business.
But there’s something missing, right?
Bauhofer is a busy guy too. (Shoot…he’s the president of the Pennbrook Company in Bend.) “I’ve been on a lot of boards and I felt like I wanted to do something that was more personal, where I wasn’t advising already smart people or helping to fund raise.”
Bauhofer’s been a CASA for four years and has handled about eight cases during that time. “I like to work with families with children early on so you can help them avoid dysfunctional problems,” said Bauhofer. “In my experience, drugs, alcohol and abuse are the main causes of dysfunction within families.”
Bauhofer is satisfied with his “success” rate. “There’s one case that I’m still actively working on, all the other cases have resolved themselves — either the kiddos were adopted or the families were reunited.”
But I’m not trained and don’t have the skills…
Prospective CASA’s are well trained for the task. “It’s extensive training. Forty hours of training over ten weeks and then there’s the volunteer commitment which is generally between ten and fifteen hours a month,” said McPherson. This teaches a volunteer how to investigate, engage and understand all the people and circumstances in a child’s life — including the parents, foster parents, teachers, physicians — and of course — the child.
And skill-wise, well, you’re a business person, right?
“The skills that make a great CASA advocate are some of the same skills that make someone successful in the professional world,” said McPherson. “CASA’s need to be problem solvers, stay focused on the goals of what’s best for the child they serve. It’s a job that requires both the mind and the heart.”
So what’s stopping you?
CASA of Central Oregon needs your skills, your passion and your desire to help children and young people. “Being able to give of yourself is a unique opportunity,” said Bauhofer. “There aren’t, for a business person, those opportunities — you will gain much more than you give.”
And when you are sworn-in by the Deschutes County Circuit Court, Judge Stephen Forte is likely to say to you, “As a CASA, your appointment comes from the court but your calling comes from within.”
Take the Giving Tuesday $10K Matching Challenge
This Giving Tuesday, you can give abused and neglected children what they need most—a caring adult on their side.
On November 27, CASA of Central Oregon wants to raise enough money to sponsor 10 new court-appointed special advocates, or CASAs, for children in foster care. Donate here and your gift will be doubled by generous neighbors who will MATCH your donation dollar for dollar up to $10,000.
Giving Tuesday is a global day of giving that harnesses the collective power of individuals, communities and organizations to encourage philanthropy and to celebrate generosity worldwide. Following Thanksgiving and shopping events Black Friday and Cyber Monday, this year’s Giving Tuesday will take place on November 27th and will kick off the giving season by inspiring people to collaborate and give back.
You can help children in foster care this Giving Tuesday by donating to CASA here. All donations given on November 27 or referencing Giving Tuesday will be matched up to $10,000.
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.
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.