Academic journal article Child Welfare

The Effectiveness of CASAs in Achieving Positive Outcomes for Children

Academic journal article Child Welfare

The Effectiveness of CASAs in Achieving Positive Outcomes for Children

Article excerpt

Using a quasiexperimental design, this study evaluated the effectiveness of CASAs in achieving positive outcomes for children, and examined the process variables believed to lead to permanency for children. Data

were collected from court and CASA program files over a two-year period on 200 children, who were compared to children without CASA volunteers on outcome and process variables. Findings indicate that CASAs may have helped reduce the number of placements and court continuances children experienced, and that more services were provided to children with CASAs than to those without. Additional research is needed to further evaluate the impact of CASA services on children.

The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act of 1976 mandated that children involved in judicial proceedings due to abuse or neglect have a guardian ad litem (GAL) appointed to advocate for their best interests. In 1977, dissatisfied with the effort and cost of using attorneys as GALs, juvenile court judges in King County, Washington, began using citizen volunteers as GALs, calling them court-appointed special advocates (CASA). By 1998,843 CASA and CASA-affiliated programs were established nationwide, with more than 47,000 volunteers representing 183,339 children [National CASA Association 1998].

CASAs provide a voice for children in judicial proceeding and advocate for the placement of children in safe homes intended to be permanent. They are trained community volunteers who are asked to make a commitment for the duration of a child's involvement with the court and child welfare systems. Because CASA volunteers are usually assigned to only one case at a time, they typically can give more time and attention to it than can attorneys and/or child welfare workers. Additionally, children can benefit from having an advocate who is outside the court system, child welfare system, and parent-child relationship.

CASA programs may follow one of four models: (1) the GAL model-the CASA is the child's GAL; 2) the "friend of the court" model-the CASA serves as an impartial observer, conducts investigations with key people, and makes recommendations to the court (Children assigned a CASA under this model also have attorney GALs.); (3) the "team" model-the CASA and attorney are appointed by the court to perform the functions of the GAL, and the CASA works "for" the attorney by providing the attorney with needed information to represent the child in judicial proceedings; and (4) the "monitor" model-the CASA monitors court orders for compliance and alerts the court about failures to comply, but has little, if any, contact with the children and families [Miller & Wolf Survey, in Condelli 19881.

This study adds to the small body of literature presently available regarding the effectiveness of CASAs in helping achieve permanency for children who have been abused or neglected and are involved with the court system.

Literature Review

Since the inception of the CASA program in 1977, only a handful of quantitative studies have been conducted regarding the impact CASA volunteers have on the lives of the children they serve, with inconclusive, yet promising results. Utilizing a true experimental design, Abramson [1991] demonstrated that children assigned a CASA were less likely to re-enter out-of-home care once discharged than were children without CASAs. That study also showed that children with CASAs were more likely to have case goals that reflected permanency than those not served by CASAs.

Three studies have demonstrated that children with CASA volunteers are more likely to be adopted than those who do not have CASA volunteers [Abramson 1991; Poertner & Press 1990; Smith 1992]. Two other studies have demonstrated that children with CASAs experienced shorter stays in out-of -home care than children without CASAs [Oregon Governor's Task Force 1995; Leung 1996]. Other research involving CASAs suggests that children and families served by CASAs have more services provided to them by child welfare agencies than do children without such volunteers [CSR, Inc. …

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