• Ann Wrixon

Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) and Foster Youth Permanency Outcomes



A 2015 study found that youth represented by a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer were significantly more likely to have a permanency outcome of adoption or reunification with a birth relative, but not their birth parents.

This study looked at foster youth in the rural Tennessee county of Anderson, which is predominantly white (92.2%). The study examined closed files over 18 years from 1995 to 2012, comparing permanency outcomes for youth who had a CASA volunteer assigned to them and youth who exited the system before having a CASA volunteer assigned. The sample size for the study included 304 cases.

Although older studies showed that CASA volunteer intervention results in fewer placements (Litzelfelner, 2000) there had not been studies on permanency outcomes. The study showed that both youth with the CASA intervention and without it most frequently ended up reunifying with their birthparents, but there was a significant difference in how often this happened. Forty-three percent of youth with a CASA volunteer reunified with their birthparents, while 69% of those without reunified with their birthparents. There was also a significant difference between the number of CASA youth placed with birth relatives (30.2%) and those without a CASA volunteer placed with birth relatives (21.7%). Finally, there was also a significant difference between the number of CASA youth adopted (27.1%) and those without a CASA adopted (9.1%).

According to the study authors, “Although re-unification with birth parents would be an ideal permanency option for children in foster care, it may not be practical unless their fragmented circumstances are improved. Thus, further investigation of family context is needed to better understand the practicability of family re-unification.” (Pilkay, S. & Lee, S., 2015, p. 452) Given that some studies have found that children re-unifed with their families have a greater incidence of behavioral problems (Taussig, Clyman, & Landsverk, 2001), Pilay & Lee conclude, “Finally, to advance evidence-based practice in child welfare, social work practitioners and policymakers should investigate overall quality of permanency outcomes of children in foster care. (p.452)

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