October 2012 Bar Bulletin
Youth and Truth: Adding Color to CASA
By Judge LeRoy McCullough
In his book of poems, foster care alumnus and movie producer Antoine Fisher posed the rhetorical question: "Who will cry for the little boy ... who cries inside of me?"
The question has special significance in our beloved King County where thousands of youth are caught up in a maelstrom of contested family law and juvenile court dependency battles and where children of color are approximately one-third of the child population. Although there is no higher incidence of abuse or neglect in any racial or ethnic group, according to the King County Racial Disproportionality Initiative children of color comprise more than half of those in foster care.
Child abuse and neglect are more than a local phenomenon. The May 2012 Casey Family Program summary reports that nationally we will see more than 2,000 children confirmed as victims in a 24-hour period. Locally, nationally, who will "cry" for the youth? Who will represent their unique points of view in court?
Enter the family law and the Juvenile Court dependency Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) programs. In successive four-week sessions, CASA community volunteers are trained to independently investigate, write reports and testify in family law or Juvenile Court matters on behalf of the children.
The Dependency CASA program is a part of Juvenile Court and is covered by that court's budget. Family Law CASA is a separate nonprofit organization created 10 years ago after the Superior Court budget was unable to sustain it.
Both CASA programs need more legal and other volunteers from the general community, and both programs are urgently seeking more volunteers from communities of color. We are grateful for the current pool of volunteers. However, some 30% of the children who are the subject of dependency and family law proceedings come from communities of color and the current profile of CASA volunteers is overwhelmingly non-minority. We are thus losing the opportunity to enhance the trust, credibility, quality and cultural competency that can be realized by a more ethnically diverse pool of volunteers.
This is why the Courts and Community Committee of the King County Superior Court has joined forces with Family Law CASA and Dependency CASA to increase the number of volunteers from the local communities of color. Several of our African American congregations welcomed CASA volunteers and staff to their spring 2012 worship services. As a direct result of the invitations issued, the October training session for volunteers will be one of the most diverse in recent years.
For further information on Family Law CASA, see www.familylawcasa.org. Dependency CASA information is available at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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