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Texas CASA Statement in Reference to 2013 Commissioned Research

November 12, 2019

CASA programs in Texas have always been, and continue to be, committed to serving the best interests of children in the child welfare system. Research shows that it is in the best interests of children to remain with, and connected to, their families and communities. It is CASA’s first priority on cases to advocate for keeping families together whenever safe and possible. This is also the first priority of the child welfare system as a whole. We have created comprehensive trainings and resources to reinforce this practice across our network.

In 2013, we commissioned The University of Texas at Austin to evaluate CASA volunteer effectiveness related to the safety, permanency and well-being of children and youth in the child welfare system. The research provided us valuable information key to strengthening training and improving advocacy. While we have excelled in focusing on safety, we are still determining best practices for permanency and well-being. We are grateful to be a learning, growing organization and will continue to conduct research to ensure we are making a positive difference in the lives of children and families.

We recognize that families, no matter their circumstances, love each other and are deserving of dignity, respect, a voice and support towards reunification. In the past decade, we’ve greatly amplified our focus on supporting families; training volunteers in trauma, cultural competency and bias awareness; and increasing statewide recruitment of volunteers from African American, Hispanic and other historically marginalized communities.

The CASA organization is one part of a complex child welfare system that has long struggled with institutionalized bias and disproportionality. The adults working in the system, including CASA staff and volunteers, judges, caseworkers and attorneys, do not reflect the demographics of the children and families they serve. “That’s a situation much bigger than CASA,” said Travis County Associate District Judge Aurora Martinez Jones, who advocates for more awareness of how the child welfare system affects children of color. “There are institutional issues that have created disproportionate issues for families.” Like CASA, the child welfare system throughout the nation has, in recent years, become focused on the critical importance of ensuring that professionals are trained in cultural competency and bias awareness.

On Nov. 18, 2019, the Child and Family Research Partnership, who designed and conducted the research, released a statement supporting CASA and elaborating that the “results from the study may be misinterpreted to insinuate a larger difference in permanency outcomes between children with and without a CASA than the results actually find.” They reiterated the true percentage differences (rather than the odds ratios) in permanency outcomes between a child with a CASA and a child without a CASA, and these are listed below.

Permanency Outcomes No CASA CASA
Reunified 32.13% 28.61%
Adopted (if not reunified) 41.45% 44.79%
PMC to Kin (if not reunified or adopted) 79.26% 76.39%
No Permanency (if not reunified or adopted) 20.74% 23.61%

We recognized that the available data left many unanswered questions and did not allow us to evaluate the positive, tangible contributions of CASA volunteers both to the child welfare system as a whole and to the lives of individual children and family members. From the CFRP: “Permanency is only one measured outcome for children who are the child welfare system. Other outcomes, such as the child’s emotional health, connections to community and culture, and access to supports and services, are not measured and captured in the child welfare data, and therefore we could not examine the impact CASA has on these important outcomes.”

In 2015, Texas CASA began Collaborative Family Engagement (CFE), a partnership between local CASA programs and Child Protective Services (CPS) focused on finding family and other committed adults in a child’s case, and empowering parents and families to have an active role in the decision-making for their children. This is a significant structural shift in practice intended to give parents, families and children a bigger say in their cases, to construct a lifetime network of connections for children, and to increase the social safety net for families.

CASA volunteers are most often dedicated to just one child or sibling group, instead of carrying a caseload. Volunteers gather information from the child, parents, foster parents, caseworkers, teachers, doctors and others, and communicate this information to the judge, providing more eyes and ears to inform decisions. Volunteers facilitate family engagement with CPS and elevate the voices of children and families in the case. In addition to providing the emotional support of a consistent adult figure in the child’s life, volunteers pay targeted attention to improving the child’s education, mental and physical health, connections to their community, social supports, cultural needs and preparation for independent living.

We are actively working with a coalition of local CASA programs to develop mechanisms for evaluating child well-being, including a new advocacy logic model and changes to our data collection practices. The recent research has been our opportunity to assess our practices, and we will now move forward, stronger and more informed.

Read the full statement from the Child and Family Research Partnership.

For all media requests and questions, please contact:

Leslie Morton
Chief Communications Officer
Office: (512) 610-6101
Cell: (704) 907-2173

About Texas CASA

Austin-based Texas CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) is the statewide organization of 72 local CASA programs that recruit and train volunteers to advocate for children and families involved in the child protection system. Last year, nearly 11,000 well-trained volunteers served more than 30,000 children in 219 of the 254 Texas counties. Texas CASA supports the local CASA programs by advocating for effective public policy for children in the child protection system and by providing funding, training and technical assistance to program staff, board and volunteers.

CASA volunteers are everyday members of the community doing extraordinary work to help children feel safe and supported. They are screened and trained, then appointed by the court to advocate first and foremost for reunification with the child’s parent or parents. When that’s just not safe and possible, CASA volunteer recommend that the child live with another relative or close family friend.