Dear YWCA Partners and Community,
For nearly 40 years, YWCA Clark County has proudly administered the Clark County Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program in partnership with Clark County Superior Court Administration. Serving over 700 children each year with the support of 130 volunteers and 11 staff, together we have advocated for the best interest of children in the care of the state due to abuse, neglect or abandonment.
This year, YWCA leadership made a challenging financial and mission-aligned decision to release the program back to Clark County Superior Court Administration with the following in mind:
- Expenses to administer the CASA program have increased in recent years. The state and county have tried to increase funding, but due to budget shortfalls have been unable to adequately fund the program. To sustain the CASA program, YWCA has prioritized fundraising to fill the gap.
- For the last few years, the YWCA Board of Directors has had ongoing conversations about what is best for the CASA program, its impact, and its ability to serve the community. With our CASA contract expiring on Dec. 31, 2021, and given the strength of the CASA program, the YWCA leadership and board made the decision to refocus our resources to better align with our mission of eliminating racism and empowering women.
Through Clark County’s RFP process, Cowlitz County Child Advocates (CCCA) was awarded the administration of the program. Beginning January 1, 2022, the program will officially transition to Cowlitz County Child Advocates (CCCA). Under the facilitation of Clark County, YWCA is actively partnering with CCCA to support a successful transition. YWCA supports the leadership of CCCA and we are confident in the success of the program going forward.
In the words of YWCA Board President Holly Jacobs:
“The CASA program has not only endured but thrived and grown under our organization’s careful and caring stewardship. CASA staff and volunteers continue to positively impact the lives of children in our community every day. The value of their ongoing child-focused work cannot be overstated. As a board, we are committed to a smooth and productive transition that effectively serves current and future CASA participants.”
While we understand change can be difficult, we expect the high level of service to children and their families will continue in the care of CCCA. We continue to support and maintain the incredible program that was built through the dedication, enthusiasm and commitment of the YWCA/CASA volunteers, staff, community partners and friends.
We are currently doing everything possible to support the CASA team at YWCA by collaborating closely with CCCA to ensure a successful transition. The program is so much stronger thanks to the hard work of our CASA staff and volunteers.
As we move forward, together, YWCA is committed to increasing mission-aligned partnerships, facilitating tough conversations and collaborating with our community to eliminate racism, empower women and promote peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.
Our heartfelt gratitude to you for being champions for the YWCA.
Dunetchka Otero-Serrano, Executive Director
Our mission is to provide quality advocacy in the best interest of each child in dependency and support permanency in a timely manner served by highly-trained volunteer advocates so the children we represent may thrive in a safe, permanent home as soon as possible.
In 1977, a Seattle juvenile court judge concerned about making drastic decisions with insufficient information conceived the idea of citizen volunteers speaking up for the best interests of abused and neglected children in the courtroom. The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) developed guidelines to help the juvenile justice system protect the child’s right to a safe, permanent family. The committee coined the umbrella term “Court Appointed Special Advocate” – CASA – denoting any volunteer following a clearly defined role as a friend of the court.
From that first program has grown a network of nearly 1,000 CASA and guardian ad litem programs that are recruiting, training and supporting volunteers in 49 states and the District of Columbia.
The Clark County CASA program was established January 1982 as the “Guardian ad Litem Project”. The first volunteer CASA started advocating for children in February of that same year. The “Guardian ad Litem Project” eventually was renamed Clark County CASA and was supported by YWCA Clark County. The relationship between the CASA Program and YWCA Clark County thrived and continues today.
Our program is committed to training culturally competent volunteers and staff to ensure we support the cultural needs of the children in Clark County. One of our key goals is to maintain a volunteer base that reflects the diversity of the children we serve and to be an inclusive organization that values the viewpoints and life experiences of each volunteer.
LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and/or questioning) youth are overrepresented in the foster care system as many have faced rejection and displacement at the hands of their families of origin (Williams Institute and RISE, 2013). One recent study estimates nearly 20% of youth in foster care identify as LGBTQ. CASA provides advocacy in a manner that recognizes the possibility that any youth may be LGBTQ. When the foster youth identifies as LGBT or Q, CASA’s role is to listen to them and ensure that they have culturally competent access to the best care, advocacy, and services possible.
Foster children have the right to be protected from abuse and neglect. They have the right to be treated fairly and equally, whatever their gender, gender expression, race, religion, ethnicity, national origin, disability, medical needs, or sexual orientation. They also have the right to be addressed by their chosen gender pronouns. As CASA volunteers, part of our mission is to assist in securing a safe, permanent and nurturing home for every child in foster care, including those who identify as LGBTQ. Children in foster care are the most vulnerable population; those who also identify as LGBTQ face even greater risks and challenges on a daily basis.
CASA advocates for the rights of LGBTQ youth, including that:
- LGBTQ youth have a right to express their sexual orientation and gender identity
- LGBTQ youth have a right to be protected from emotional and physical harm in their child welfare placements
- Child welfare professionals appropriately monitor and supervise an LGBTQ youth’s placement for discrimination and maltreatment
- LGBTQ youth in the child welfare system have a right to receive appropriate medical and mental health care and other supportive services
- LGBTQ foster youth have a right to be treated equally and without discrimination
- LGBTQ youth in child welfare placements have a right not to participate in religious activities that condemn LGBTQ people