What does CASA do for children in our community?

Payne County Courthouse

submitted by CASA of Payne and Logan Counties

CASA is an acronym for Court Appointed Special Advocate. Our local program, CASA for Kids, Inc. (Serving Payne and Logan Counties) is one of 23 active CASA programs in the state of Oklahoma that train volunteers to speak up for abused children in court. These 23 state-wide CASA programs serve children in 64 of Oklahoma’s 77 counties, as well as four tribal courts.

Every year, thousands of children in Oklahoma are removed from their homes because of evidence of abuse and neglect. In an effort to keep them safe, they are uprooted from the only family they’ve known, taken out of schools and away from friends. In short, their worlds are turned upside down. Going through the child welfare system is a scary process and no child should do it alone.

The Oklahoma CASA network is working hard to make sure that every child who needs an advocate to speak for his or her best interests before the courts, has a caring, trained adult to help them through this difficult period of his or her life. According to the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (DHS) annual report, in 2015 there were 124 children in out of home care in Payne County, and 216 children in out of home care in Logan County. These are the very children that CASA for Kids, Inc. serves.

CASA volunteers are appointed by judges to watch over and speak up for abused and neglected children to make sure they don’t get lost in the overburdened legal and social service systems or languish in the foster care system. The CASA volunteer is typically assigned just one case at a time. They visits their assigned child or children in their foster home placement or another setting at least once each month. These visits are meant to establish rapport, get to know and honor the child, and understand the child’s needs and wishes. For many abused children, their CASA volunteer is the one constant adult in their lives during this confusing and frightening time.

The second role that CASA volunteers perform is to investigate and follow their assigned child’s case. Families have a legal right to correct the conditions that caused their children to be removed. In most cases, reunification is the goal. CASA volunteers have a court order that grants them access to all records pertaining to the case, as well as access to any and all parties to the case. CASA volunteers interact regularly with biological parents and families, foster families, DHS, attorneys, medical professionals, educators, etc. to understand the big picture and monitor progress. With this knowledge, they present fact-base recommendations about the child’s best interest to the court. CASA volunteers remain as an advocate for their assigned child until he or she is placed in a safe, permanent home and the case is closed.

Independent research has demonstrated that children with a CASA volunteer are substantially less likely to spend time in long-term foster care and less likely to reenter care. They are less likely to have poor conduct in school, and more likely to pass all courses. CASA is a highly effective program working right here in our community.