Wednesday, November 12, 2008

CASA: Deep in denial

The previous post to this Blog discusses a shockingly racist performance by a small-town mayor at a benefit for a local chapter of Court-Appointed Special Advocates (CASA). It discusses how the CASA chapter reportedly knew what was planned in advance and had no problem with it. It discusses how the director of the CASA chapter gave the performance a rave review and didn't change her mind until it got bad press. Most important, it discussed how this is only the most obvious evidence that racial and class bias pervade the CASA model, despite the fact that both the organization and its volunteers almost always mean well and truly believe they are helping children.

The problems were confirmed by a revealing response I received from a CASA in Indiana (white, middle-class, and retired) defending the program. Once again, motivation is not the issue. It's clear the CASA tries, as she sees it, to make the world a better place. The issue is whether she's succeeding. Because, by the time I finished the e-mail, I could only feel sorry for any overwhelmed, impoverished parent who encounters this CASA and doesn't know that, if she wants to keep her children, she'd better say "how high?" when the CASA says "jump."

The CASA writes that "every child and every situation is different" and later: "There's no formula, rule, law or ideology that will fit every situation – only human caring and understanding." Lovely sentiments, and I'm sure the CASA sincerely believes she practices what she preaches.

But in between those comments, she also writes:

"CASA seems to be the counter-balance against a social service system hell-bent on keeping children with their very inadequate families--or putting them into a foster care system where their childhoods will be wasted while their parents 'get their acts together.'"

So in between telling me how she views each and every case individually, she declares the bias against families with which she approaches each and every case. She also writes:

"The local department of child services has a guiding policy of keeping children with the natural parents that is now stronger than the Ten Commandments is for followers of the Christian faith."

Either the CASA has a low opinion of Christians or she hasn't checked the facts.

FACT: The state of Indiana takes away children at a rate above the national average and well above the rate in systems widely regarded as models.

FACT: The number of children taken from their parents in Indiana has increased almost every year since 1999.

FACT: The number of children taken from their parents in Indiana in 2007 is more than 60 percent higher than it was in 1999.

FACT: The number of children taken from their parents in Indiana reached a record high in 2007. And, according to a front page story in the Indianapolis Star that ran two days before the CASA sent her e-mail, it's likely to set a record again in 2008. (See, also the related editorial that ran in the Star on Wednesday.)

But here's the part of the e-mail that's truly worrisome. At the end of a long paragraph outlining her degrees and 37 years of experience, the CASA writes:

"I can safely and humbly say that there is no one I have ever known who is more familiar than I, on a personal and professional level, with the needs of children who live in families who struggle to rear them."

No one? Ever? In 37 years? I don't want to think about the version of this sentiment that isn't "humble."

But it's hard to blame one volunteer when the bias against families is so pervasive in CASA. Consider this statement from the website for the CASA program in Indiana's largest county:

"Our volunteers help ensure that the 5000 children whose cases we monitor each year are not returned to the very situations where the mistreatment occurred. We continue to work with the children until it is safe and appropriate for them to return home or until they become eligible for adoption."

The possibility that the child was taken in error, or solely because of a family's poverty, and that it is "safe and appropriate" to return that child home right now, is not even considered.