A disquieting statement is buried in the paperwork for Tuesday’s meeting of Deschutes County’s public safety coordinating council.
Every child in foster care in Oregon is legally mandated to have a court-appointed special advocate or CASA. Not every child gets one.
The state doesn’t provide enough money to ensure it happens. And there aren’t enough volunteers. Because of that, some of the most vulnerable children in Oregon do not get the representation and advocacy they should. Across Oregon, fewer than half of foster children have a CASA volunteer.
If you have wondered why there is story after story about how Oregon fails children in foster care, this is one reason why.
CASA of Central Oregon has made progress. For instance in Deschutes County in 2017, 80% of children in foster care in Deschutes County were paired with a CASA advocate. In 2019, it has been up to 85%. Jenna App, executive director of CASA Central Oregon, wants more than anything to hit 100%. For perspective, there will be about 350 children in foster care in Deschutes County in 2019.
Why does a CASA volunteer matter? Better outcomes.
When a child is put into the foster care system, it can be disruptive experience after disruptive experience for a child. A child in the system in Deschutes County will on average pass through three foster homes and have four different caseworkers, App said. One CASA volunteer — one consistent adult — dedicated to that child’s well-being throughout that period can make a big difference. CASA volunteers aren’t miracle workers. But they do tend to reduce the amount of time a child is in foster care, ensure the child has access to more services and have a better track record of keeping the child in school.
Two big things could make a difference for CASA in Central Oregon: money and volunteers. The state only provides a fraction of the budget for CASA, less than 10% for CASA of Central Oregon. The rest is raised through grants and donations.
House Bill 2570 would have dramatically increased state funding for CASA. It had broad support from Central Oregon legislators, including state Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend and state Reps. Cheri Helt, R-Bend; Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte; and Jack Zika, R-Redmond. The bill, which had an $8 million price tag, died in the Ways and Means Committee.
Success takes a lot more than money, of course. Volunteers are the core. It’s a many-layered commitment of time and energy to volunteer to advocate for a foster child. There are background checks, of course, and hours of training. But for people who can do it and who are willing to open up their heart to help a child who truly needs an advocate, it may change a life.