Speaker Summary
Harvey Clark introduced our speaker, Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Coordinator for Pinal County, Greg Clark. Greg is a retired police officer who now works with CASA to advocate for foster children.
The Pinal County court is responsible for more than 1,000 children who are placed out of their homes. Whether a mother abandons a newborn in the hospital without identifying the father, or parents are both killed in a car accident, or children are removed from a home due to abuse or mental illness, the foster care system and the county courts end up overseeing the care of the children. More than 300 of the 1000 foster children are under 3 years old. The courts work to “fix” the families, offering assistance to the parents to allow them to earn reunification with their children – and sometimes it does happen. But for older kids, separation often means long term foster care.
A judge in Seattle in 1979 created CASA to have someone who could get to know the foster children and advise the court about what is best for each child. The current CASA program models that original experiment.
CASA volunteers learn all they can about a child’s case: they have access to court files, they regularly meet and listen to the child, and they attend court on the child’s behalf, providing an informed recommendation to the presiding judge. CASA advocates are asked to be the constant in the lives of the kids – to make themselves the familiar face that is always there, no matter how many things change for the child. Clark stated, “You don’t have to be a specialist; this is set up for common sense. Advocates don’t necessarily tell the child what he or she wants to hear, they tell them what’s best for them.”
There are CASA programs all over the United States. Most CASA programs are nonprofit organizations, but in AZ, CASA is a government sponsored advocacy program managed by the Supreme Court. CASA volunteers undergo thorough background checks and extensive two-day training. Advocates are asked to spend 8-12 hours/month to help change a kid’s life.
For more information – including the videos that Greg mentioned: www.azcourts.gov/casa.