In 2019, a total of 2,820 Oregon children were removed from their homes by the Department of Human Services, according to the 2019 Child Welfare Data Book.
Every Child Linn Benton reports that in Linn and Benton counties this past year, 373 children spent time in foster care, and 66.1% were placed in more than one foster home. These children need someone in their corner to help them navigate through some of the most challenging times of their lives. That’s where CASA volunteers step in.
Kari Pinard is the executive director for CASA- Voices for Children in Benton County.
“When a child comes into care, they are appointed an attorney who will advocate for what the child wants,” she explained. “In Benton County, when a child comes into care, they are also appointed a Court Appointed Special Advocate, or a CASA. A CASA is a trained community volunteer that advocates for the best interests of the child.”
The volunteers spend time and build a relationship with the child, as well as review education, medical, and mental health records. They also write detailed reports for the court, advocating for the child both inside and outside the courtroom. Pinard says that CASA volunteers add consistency to a time when adults will often come and go quickly from their lives.
“Permanency sometimes comes quickly, and other times children can remain in care for months or years,” Pinard said. “A CASA ensures that DHS is providing all necessary services to the child and is working diligently to find a permanent home for the child, whether it is reuniting with their parents or entering an adoption or guardianship.”
CASA Volunteers come from all walks of life, from college students and retired teachers, to current and retired medical field professionals. All applicants submit an application, pass reference and background checks, as well as an interview, and they receive over 30 hours of specialized training and court observation before they are sworn in by a judge. There are currently 24 CASA volunteers in Benton County, and they are always looking for more advocates to add to the team.
Each volunteer is assigned a sibling group or single child, and can be assigned up to three sibling groups, depending on the case load and the complexity of each case. The advocates also make sure that their assigned children are provided with age-appropriate information about the status of their case. Volunteers devote at least 10 hours a month to the program and must be available to attend court hearings and other case related meetings.
The advocates don’t just help children in care, they also provide support to foster parents and families.
“Foster parents have the hardest role – opening their homes to an abused/neglected child, who can often times have behavior issues on top of missing their family,” Pinard says. “CASA works very hard to support foster parents through providing needed items – baby items, clothing, gifts, emotional support, listening to their knowledge and experience with the child, explaining the process and legal system, monthly newsletters fully specific to foster parents, extensive list of resources, tutoring for the foster child and any other way we can offer support to them.”
Soon CASA-Voices for Children in Benton County will also be offering Trauma-Informed Tutoring as well as Independent Living Services for teenagers in care. Trauma-informed tutoring helps remove barriers that prevent students from learning in the traditional sense.
CASA tutors will use strategies like using hands-on learning materials, providing positive behavioral supports, and structured, predictable routines and expectations to encourage children in care to learn at their best.
The Independent Living Services will help youth living in foster care by providing them with adult-level living skills, such as drivers education, budgeting and financial planning, finding housing options, housekeeping, and cooking. This way, teens in Benton County can be better prepared for life on their own once they leave the system behind.
Pinard reaffirms that consistency for children is an incredibly important part of their success throughout life. CASA Volunteers fill this necessary place, and provide support and care for children who are most at risk.
“A child in care will have a revolving door of adults in their life, but CASA is able to remain a consistent voice throughout their whole journey in the dependency system.”
If you’re interested in participating in CASA-Voices for Children, you can visit the website or contact them to set up an informational meeting.
Pinard also reminds community members: “Not everyone can be a foster parent or advocate, but there are other ways to support an abused or neglected child. Volunteer with us to assist with events, make donations of items (Christmas presents, birthday gifts, clothing), monetary donations to support our work and attend events.”
By Kyra Young