The mission of Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Philadelphia is to train and support community volunteers to advocate for the health, safety, stability and well-being of abused and neglected children.
CASA serves children who, for their own protection, have been removed from their homes and placed in foster care. Judges refer the most serious cases of child abuse and neglect to CASA so that one volunteer can consistently spend time with one child, building a relationship and ensuring that each child is receiving the support and attention he or she needs and deserves while going through the foster care process.
The unique one-on-one relationship that forms between the volunteer and dependent child is often the only stable, positive relationship the child has. In a sea of social workers, attorneys, therapists and caregivers, it's the court appointed volunteer who is a consistent and caring friend and advocate for the child.
CASA Volunteers are a powerful voice for children, advising the court about what the child needs and wants. While providing emotional support and the stability and nurturing every child deserves, they make recommendations that are in the child's best interest.
On any given day in Philadelphia, there are nearly 4,200 children who have been removed from their homes and placed in out-of-home care due to abuse or neglect. Stripped of all that is familiar to them, often separated from their siblings and without the comfort of their friends, they spend too much of their childhood being shuffled from group home to group home, foster placement to foster placement, having to adjust to new schools and new faces with every move.
The system designed to care for them and adequately provide for their future is overburdened with too many children. Social workers carry between 30 and 50 cases and the attorneys who represent the children can upwards of 300 cases at a time.
A comprehensive national study of children involved with Child Protective Services confirmed that children in foster care have dramatically higher rates of emotional, developmental, and medical disorders. Less than one third of children in foster care receive mental health treatment services and as a result many children with learning disabilities and mental health issues remain unidentified. The impact of childhood maltreatment can last a lifetime, leading to adult chronic illnesses such as alcoholism, post-traumatic stress syndrome, depression, obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular illness.
For those kids who "age-out" or emancipate from foster care at age 18, the outlook is quite bleak. National statistics reveal that within 18 months, 50% have not graduated from high school (in Philadelphia the number is closer to 75%) and are unemployed, a third end up in jail and a quarter become homeless. Additionally, children who have been abused are 38% more likely to commit violent crimes as adults and are about 33% more likely to abuse their own kids.
Fortunately, CASA volunteers are appointed by a Family Court Judge to lift up a child’s voice in dependent court proceedings. Unlike social workers, therapists, and attorneys who juggle large caseloads and rarely have time to focus on a single child, CASA volunteers work with only one child at a time and often become the most important person in that child's life.
CASA volunteers can be the difference between success and failure in a child's life. By simply listening, encouraging, guiding and speaking up for a child, CASA volunteers help these vulnerable children and teens to reach their full potential. Sometimes it is just allowing a child to feel cared about for the first time, and sometimes it is helping to find a loving, permanent home for a child. Clearly, the combination of consistent advocacy for a child's needs results in a much greater chance that these kids will achieve a bright, successful future.