foster care: frame
By Stephanie Summers
[The following is an excerpt from the book.]
Stopping the flow of children through the foster-to-trafficking pipeline requires ongoing commitments by governments and citizens, congregations, families, and nonprofits to fulfill their many different responsibilities, often working in collaboration with one another. Stopping the flow is possible, but it will take perseverance, effort, and time.
Yet there is a surprisingly simple solution that can help slow the flow today. During interviews for this book, when asked, “What can a young adult can do about this today?”, nearly every person responded without hesitation, “Become a court appointed special advocate.”
What is a court appointed special advocate? It’s the solution you’ve probably never heard about.
Nearly 40 years ago, a juvenile court judge in King County, WA, had an idea that would change the lives of millions of foster children. In his courtroom, attorneys and caseworkers presented their information and recommendations about what should be done for each child from the perspectives of the legal and social service systems.
Each time a child appeared in his courtroom, a different attorney and caseworker was assigned.
On average each case took about two years. Judge Soukoup felt that there needed to be someone consistently involved with the child’s case to ensure they didn’t get lost within the system. He conceived of this person as an advocate, someone who would be able to review all the facts of the child’s case and speak on the child’s behalf in court until the child’s case is closed and when placement in a safe and loving home takes place. The role of court appointed special advocate was born.
As Christians, we know the power of an Advocate: one who testifies on our behalf, and who also speaks words of hope and comfort to us wherever we are found. For an abused and neglected child in the overburdened foster care system, the court appointed special advocate has a no less powerful role. Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) volunteers share stories of children exclaiming, “You found me!” when they arrived in court, or of times when their report or testimony literally changed the trajectory of a case, setting a child’s life on a path towards flourishing in a forever family.
Today, about 75,000 CASA volunteers span all walks of life and serve as part of nearly 1000 affiliated CASA organizations in every state. But the need for CASA volunteers remains great. According to the National CASA Association, nearly 400,000 children will “go it alone” this year. It is horrifying to see how the numbers add up, when the FBI reports that 3 out of 5 domestic trafficking victims rescued in 2013 had been foster care children at some point in their lives.
You can help slow the flow of children through the foster-to-trafficking pipeline. CASA volunteers come from all walks of life, and there is no requirement for a background in law or social work. Most CASA volunteers are already actively serving with other organizations providing help to their most vulnerable neighbors. Local CASA affiliates provide prospective CASA volunteers with more than 30 hours of initial training, a CASA supervisor who assists with writing court reports and attends the first few court appointments alongside new CASA volunteers, and a robust set of continuing education opportunities, both required and voluntary.
CASA volunteers encourage prospective volunteers to think soberly about the commitment they are intending to make. For foster children who are already among some of the most vulnerable members of our society, CASA volunteers who don’t fulfill their commitment to serve the often multi-year duration of the child’s case only add to the list of unreliable adults who have demonstrated that the child is not valued.
“This is not about you feeling good when the kid smiles at you for the first time, or finally decides to trust you. This is about you filling a need,” one CASA volunteer shared. “Being a CASA volunteer is about being there for that child, to show that child that their life matters to God.”