CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) workers represent children in foster care through the court procedures, placements and caseworkers. Out of the 83 counties in Michigan, only 24 counties have, or are initiating CASA programs. According to Christie Lypka, State Executive Director of the CASA program, recent Methamphetamine epidemics have placed children in rural areas at greater risk. As Michigan is predominantly a rural state, a great number of children are at risk of being placed in state care.
With Michigan’s unemployment rate, which is currently the highest in the nation, as well as recent cutbacks in the Department of Human Services budgets; these communities are struggling. Families labor to make their housing payments, put food on the table, keep their lights and their heat on; this will also increase the numbers of children in foster care, as poverty is too often mistaken for neglect. With these factors putting Michigan’s children at higher risk of being placed in foster care; it is imperative that we make a concerted effort to implement a CASA program in every county in Michigan to advocate for the children who are placed in state care.
To initiate a CASA program, first it will be necessary to contact the National CASA program to get regional contact information. The regional contact will then help with the rest of the initiation process. The state organization will also be involved and will give support as needed.
When asked what advice she would offer those interested in initiating a CASA program in their area; Christie Lypka, State Executive Director of Michigan’s CASA program responds:
“It takes patience. It is a tedious process, but well worth it. There is tremedous support from both the National CASA and Michigan CASA programs.” Impediments: “It is a lengthy procedure and you must have the buy-in of the judge in the county you wish to start a program. You should also meet with Department of Human Resources and other agencies who may be involved in child advocacy in the county you wish to start a program in.”
The advantages of a CASA program are hard to quantify because the long term effects are infinite for the children who benefit from them. Short term gains are supported by the statistics. As Christie Lypka states:
“Children with a CASA volunteer are substantially less likely to spend time in long-term foster care, defined as more than three years in care; 13.3% for CASA cases versus 27% of all children in foster care. Cases involving a CASA worker are less likely to re-enter the child welfare system than cases where a CASA volunteer is not involved. Just 9% of CASA children re-enter the system; this is in contrast to 16% for children not served by a CASA volunteer.”
According to the Department of Human Services statistics; http://www.michigan.gov/documents/FIA-FactSheet_109046_7.pdf as of November 2010 there were 15,111 of Michigans children in state care. Of those children, 4078 were in foster care for more than three years. 2418 children will return to foster care without a CASA volunteer to advocate for them.
The CASA statistics are enlightening. Three years in foster care is a long time. A child in constant transition is never sure where they will be, who they will be with, or if they will ever be anywhere that really feels like home. A CASA worker may be the only constant in their lives while in foster care.