Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA)

Mission Statement: Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) Imperial County’s initial mission statement was to advocate for abused/neglected children in the Juvenile Court process, addressing legal representation only. The original mission has been expanded to include advocating for the health, safety, and overall well-being for all our clients within the foster care system and in permanent placement.

Advancing Health and Wellness: Psychotropic medications can improve lives. The drugs utilized today are significantly safer than those prescribed just 15 years ago. Despite little research studying the long-term effects of these medications on children and adolescents, these medications continue to be widely prescribed to children in the Foster Care System. The statistics regarding the prescription of psychotropic medications are very alarming, where as many as 40% of all foster children are taking psychotropic medications compared to 4% of the general child population.

Working closely with the judges in Juvenile Courts, CASA has targeted resources to more closely monitor the use of psychotropic medications and to advocate against Foster Youth being placed on these medications.  This process is done by better educating the CASA volunteer, the Foster Youth, and their foster families on alternative behaviors and therapies. With medical supervision, CASA is committed to reduce/discontinue the use of these drugs as a long-term remedy. CASA is working closely with the courts to implement a “clear and convincing” legal standard when it comes to the approval of psychotropic medications to foster children.  Additionally, CASA has developed “talking points” and educational materials that help CASA volunteers understand the risks of psychotropic medications.  Since Foster Youth are often removed—with little or no advance notice—from their family, foster homes, schools, and assigned doctors, it is imperative the one constant in their lives, the CASA volunteer, be the best informed, best educated and strongest advocate possible for them.

Description: CASA of Imperial County is a private non-profit organization whose mission is to serve the needs of abused and neglected children. It is an active and assertive community participant who works diligently as a child’s voice. The Juvenile and Tribal Court systems are an overwhelming and frustrating legal process for children and parents.

There are over 300 abused children that have been removed from their homes and placed in foster care as a result of severe or chronic abuse in Imperial County. Many of these children will never return home again. They may be separated from siblings and friends, facing a life that might never be the same. The children’s only “crime” is that they have been victims. In some cases these children also become victims a second time—lost in an overburdened child welfare system that cannot pay sufficient attention to each child whose life is in its hands.

CASA Volunteers are generally called in on the most serious cases of maltreatment, meaning they speak for the sort of children who are much more frequently placed in foster care, remain there longer, and, if they leave the system, are most likely re-enter it. CASA Volunteers are ordinary citizens with extraordinary hearts. As child advocates, they visit their CASA children weekly as well as the mother and family for a period of eighteen months or more. They spend time with the children, get to know them personally, go on outings and listen to what the children have to say. This commitment enables our volunteers to serve as the eyes and ears of the court. This advocacy position provides an independent source of information that will assist the court in determining the best placement option for the children. Unlike social workers, therapist and attorneys who juggle large caseloads and rarely have time for a single child, CASA Volunteers work with only one case (which may include a sibling group) at a time and often become the most important person in their child’s life.

As advocates for dependent children, our job might be described as changing the balance in favor of the protective factors. One of the most encouraging findings from researchers is that, “If we pay enough attention to children, they can overcome many of the effects of even the most severe abuse.” No child of any age is beyond helping, which is why CASA Volunteers work with children from birth to twenty-one years.

CASA Volunteers make an everlasting impact. They are able to still do this while working, raising their own children and meeting other daily obligations. Few volunteer programs make use of their volunteers to the extent the CASA program does. Using highly trained volunteers from the community, the program attempts to match the background, ethnic and social details of the child’s case ensuring sensitive and expedient attention to the particular issues of each child. A CASA’s role helps create a safe community by providing the mentoring and modeling that these children so desperately need.

Contact Information: Alex Cardenas, Executive Director, alex@casaimperialcounty.org | www.casaimperialcounty.org | Facebook

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