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Court-Appointed Advocates Aid Youth

By Selena Stevens

 

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"Kids who had CASA volunteers working for them saw fewer placement changes. That indicates a degree of stability for them."

Pat Litzelfelner, Social Work Professor

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August 15, 2000 – (Lexington, Ky.) – Children who have found their way into the court system seem to have better outcomes when a court appointed special advocate, or CASA, is involved. That's the findings of a recent study by University of Kentucky social work professor Pat Litzelfelner.

"Kids who had CASA volunteers working for them saw fewer placement changes," Litzelfelner said. "That indicates a degree of stability for them."

Litzelfelner's study looked at the effectiveness of CASA programs on the positive outcomes of children in the foster care and juvenile systems. CASA, a non-profit program developed in 1977 by judges in hopes of gaining more insight about children's individual situations, uses volunteers to serve as advocates for children. The advantage, Litzelfelner said, is the common sense approach and dedication the volunteers use.

"The child welfare system as it is can't handle the numbers of children that are in and come into the system every day," she said. "Case workers' caseloads are too high; lawyers' caseloads are too high, and there's an awful lot of citizens who want to be helpful. It's a match that makes a good argument for the use of CASAs."

After receiving training, CASAs work with case workers and lawyers to provide a full range of possibilities for each child. By 1998, 843 CASA and CASA-affiliated programs using more than 47,000 volunteers advocated for some 183,339 children across the nation. Nearly 500,000 children are in out-of-home care in the United States due to abuse or neglect with more and more children coming into the system each year. To date, only eight studies, including Litzelfelner's, have reviewed the effectiveness of CASAs.

For her study, Litzelfelner collected data from juvenile courts and CASA programs in Kansas from 1995 to 1997 on 200 children. She compared children with CASA volunteers to those who did not have CASA representation. The average CASA case was found to include higher incidences of physical and sexual abuse, neglect and caregiver substance abuse. Children with CASAs also had, on average, more siblings in out-of-home care. Her findings showed that CASAs may have helped reduce the number of placements and court continuances children experienced and that more services were provided to children with CASA representation than to those without. On average, children with CASAs experienced 3.9 placements, while those without CASAs were moved 6.6 times. Children with CASAs experienced two court continuances on average, and children without the advocates experienced three.

CASAs also had the added benefit of being relatively low-cost, Litzelfelner said. On average, the cost of a CASA was $500 per year per child, with the majority of the cost accrued in record keeping.

While the program seems to be helping children, Litzelfelner said it warrants more study across the nation. Litzelfelner said researchers hope a new study by the national CASA Association and the data it will collect will aid in a nationwide look at the effectiveness of the programs.

For more information about the Court Appointed Special Advocates program, contact the Lexington/Fayette County office at (859)253-1581 ext. 330, the Kentucky office at (502)348-1892 or the national office at 1-800-628-3233.


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