Monday, November 23, 2009

Prolonging foster care: The study CASA doesn’t want you to see


Several years ago, the National CASA association commissioned a study in order to tell the world how wonderful the Court-Appointed Special Advocate program is. This is the program in which well-meaning people who are overwhelmingly white, middle class, and have lots of time on their hands go into overwhelmingly poor, disproportionately minority homes to render judgment on the parents and tell judges if those parents ever should get their children back.

But the results of the study were not exactly what the folks at CASA expected.

●The study found that CASA's only real accomplishments were to prolong the time children languished in foster care and reduce the chance that the child will be placed with relatives.

●The study found no evidence that having a CASA on the case does anything to improve child safety – so all that extra foster care is for nothing. (The study specifically controlled for CASA's all-purpose excuse for this – the claim that CASAs handle the most difficult cases.)

●The study also found that when a CASA is assigned to a child who is Black, the CASA spends, on average, significantly less time on the case. (The study also found that CASAs don't spend as much time on cases in general as the organization's p.r. might lead one to believe. CASA volunteers reported spending an average of only 4.3 hours per month on cases involving white children, and only 2.67 hours per month on cases involving Black children.)

In some cases, as we reported previously on this Blog, the racism can be far more flagrant.

A columnist for the trade journal Youth Today aptly summed up the findings this way:

"The more rigorous evaluation … not only challenged the effectiveness of the court volunteers' services, but suggested that they spend little time on cases, particularly those of black children, and are associated with more removals from the home and fewer efforts to reunite children with parents or relatives."

None of this should come as a surprise – the problems are built into the CASA model. Who has time to spend even 4.3 hours a month on a case? Certainly not a poor person holding down two jobs. So it's no wonder CASA programs sometimes are pet projects of the local Junior League and the demographics of CASAs tend to be different from the demographics of the families they judge.

Indeed, in a cover story about the report (available on their website by subscription) Youth Today found that CASA's approach to spinning the study "can border on duplicity"

And now, it seems, that approach includes making sure as few people as possible actually see the report. It's always been hard to find on CASA's website. There used to be two such sites, and the study was buried deep in the one geared to CASAs themselves, not the general public. But when I checked again earlier this month, I found that the two websites had been merged – and the study seems to have disappeared. As far as I can tell, only a brief, self-serving summary remains. (If anyone can find the full report on the site, please let me know and I'll be glad to post the link.)

I'm just glad I downloaded the full report before it was too late. Since it no longer seems to be available on CASA's website, I've posted it on ours.