connect Winner / 2014

Speak up for the child – become an advocate for foster children in need!

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by CASA of Los Angeles

CASA/LA will grow and diversify its volunteer base to serve more foster youth and to better support their needs.


Please describe yourself.

Proposed collaboration (we want to work with partners!)

In one sentence, please describe your idea or project.

CASA/LA will grow and diversify its volunteer base to serve more foster youth and to better support their needs.

Does your project impact Los Angeles County?

Yes (benefits all of LA County)

Which area(s) of LA does your project benefit?

  • Central LA
  • East LA
  • South LA
  • San Gabriel Valley
  • San Fernando Valley
  • South Bay
  • Westside
  • Antelope Valley

What is your idea/project in more detail?

The County of Los Angeles has more foster children than any other county in the United States, with over 28,000 children in the dependency system. In order to help more of these children, CASA of Los Angeles needs to recruit 200 more volunteers to be Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs) from all communities of Los Angeles over the next year. We are looking to expand the number of African-American, Spanish-speaking, LGBTQ, and male volunteers working with CASA to better represent our children and their needs. But we can’t do that without a multi-pronged, collaborative outreach across multiple communities. Only LA2050 can help us to connect these diverse populations and prospective volunteers!

What will you do to implement this idea/project?

Strategy 1: Collaborate: Partner with 5 new organizations in the Monterey Park and Antelope Valley areas. Through LA2050, CASA/LA can forge new partnerships with other organizations across a broader spectrum whose communities best reflect our children’s profile – First African Methodist Episcopal Church (FAME), Los Angeles Latino Chamber of Congress (LALCC), Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, Hispanic Organization Promoting Education (HOPE), Brotherhood Crusade, 100 Black Men of Los Angeles, and more.

Strategy 2: Diversify: Work closely with volunteer committees—the African-American CASAs of Los Angeles, Latino Committee, Quarterback Club (committee for men)—to expand recruitment and retention of diverse volunteers. 38% of the children CASA/LA serves are African-American and 12% of CASAs are African-American; 35% of youth and 10% of CASAs are Latino; and 52% of youth and 15% of CASAs are male. Amongst foster care youth in general, 8-10% are reported to identify as gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender, or queer.

Strategy 3: Inform: Participate in an average of 20 off-site recruitment events and produce 4 information sessions monthly. The Community Outreach Department will participate either via speaking engagements, formal presentations, and/or hosting a CASA/LA information booth at a series of off-site community events held at colleges, neighborhood associations, churches, partner agencies, and courthouses throughout Los Angeles County.

Strategy 4: Network: Activate and engage the current CASA network to encourage outreach to their networks. Because word-of-mouth outreach generated by CASAs has been one of the most effective recruitment tools, the Community Outreach Department is formalizing this approach by performing outreach to CASAs directly via letters and follow-up calls.

Strategy 5: Communicate: Launch a comprehensive community-based marketing campaign in diverse neighborhoods throughout Los Angeles County. CASA/LA will embark on a marketing campaign through community newsletters and newspapers; community-based events; flyers that speak to targeted communities and flyer neighborhoods; and social media posts and advertising in specific neighborhoods throughout LA.

Strategy 6: Advertise: Implement strategies to maximize use of paid, earned, and donated media. The Community Outreach and Development and Communications teams will implement a full-scale print, broadcast, online, social, and direct media and advertising campaign.

How will your idea/project help make LA the best place to CONNECT today? In 2050?

CASA of Los Angeles (CASA/LA) identifies, trains, and supports volunteers, whose unique role is to be an unpaid advocate for abused and neglected foster children. A Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) is a specially trained and supervised volunteer, appointed by a judge to advocate for a foster child who is under the court’s protection because of abuse or neglect. CASA/LA is the quintessential “volunteer centered organization” in that all direct services are provided by volunteers who have one thing in common: their commitment to speaking for a child who has no voice. CASA’s ensure that the child receives the services and support he needs: from the basics – clothes, school supplies – to most importantly, the attention and care that he needs to thrive.

The largest obstacle toward serving our 1,000 child target for FY2015 is the lack of volunteers. For the first time ever, we currently have almost 500 active volunteers, and our child/volunteer ratio is 1.7. We’ve already increased the number of children we serve annually from 570 to 830 in the past three years. To reach our goal in the next year, we will need to recruit, train, and deploy at least 200 new volunteers, 50 more than fiscal year 2014. CASA/LA will need to go to an entirely different level of volunteer recruitment in order to meet our ambitious goals.

But what CASA/LA brings to Los Angeles is the opportunity for a diverse set of volunteers to help LA’s most vulnerable youth have a voice. Not only will our diversity campaign connect these varied populations to the youth but we will be connecting them to each other, creating a family of CASAs who come different backgrounds, ethnicities, communities, social strata, and belief systems to engage in a common goal: creating a healthy and productive future for LA’s most vulnerable children.

By 2050, CASA/LA hopes to be serving all children in the foster care system, but we can’t do that without starting to increase our number of volunteers today. Volunteers who will be trained in the legal, social, emotional, and educational needs of the child, and for whom this introduction to the foster care system might just be the first step towards becoming foster care parents themselves. CASA/LA will not only recruit this incredible group of Angeleno volunteers, they will also provide the training they need to become the best advocates possible for foster care youth.

Whom will your project benefit?

According to a special health report by Harvard Health Publication, “When researchers at the London School of Economics examined the relationship between volunteering and measures of happiness in a large group of American adults, they found the more people volunteered, the happier they were, according to a study in Social Science and Medicine. Compared with people who never volunteered, the odds of being “very happy” rose 7% among those who volunteer monthly and 12% for people who volunteer every two to four weeks. Among weekly volunteers, 16% felt very happy—a hike in happiness comparable to having an income of $75,000–$100,000 versus $20,000, say the researchers.”

Other benefits of volunteering include making new friends and connections, increasing confidence, decreasing depression, and aiding in physical health. But those are just the benefits for our volunteers. For children in the foster care system, CASA volunteers help perform miracles for those who need them the most–children who have no safe and committed adults in their lives–and help them become self-sufficient and responsible young men and women. In FY2014, 492 volunteers provided over 160,000 hours of service to 830 children in LA County. Through LA2050, CASA intends to increase that number to 700 volunteers and 1,000 children, and then 2,800 children, 10% of those in the dependency system, within the next several years.

CASA volunteers advocate for children by INVESTIGATING the child’s home life, and identifying educational, physical and mental health challenges; REPORTING all that they have learned about the child’s home and school life and RECOMMENDING to the judge how they may help the child live his best life; and ADVOCATING for the child until he is placed in a stable and permanent home with loving parents or guardians.

While we are proud of what we have accomplished as an organization, we believe our most significant accomplishments happen every day in the work of our volunteers—when an overlooked opportunity is found, a service is secured, a child learns that she is valued, or an adult connection is made that helps to keep a child safe and offers him an opportunity to succeed in life.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

CASA/LA’s current partnerships include numerous organizations advocating for the wellbeing of underserved youth throughout Los Angeles County and beyond, such as The Right Way Foundation, Zero to Three, Project ABC, L.A. Child Guidance Center, Child Development Institute, Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services, Secure Transitions Foster Family Agency, the Alliance for Children’s Rights, among others. In addition, of Los Angeles regularly partners with like-minded organizations and governmental agencies to serve—and save—more children in the dependency courts, including:

• Los Angeles Dependency Court • The Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services • Children’s Law Center • The Alliance for Children’s Rights • Child Development Institute • Los Angeles Department of Mental Health • Los Angeles Department of Public Health

However, through LA2050, CASA/LA hopes to expand its partnerships to include groups which work with specific diverse populations, like First African Methodist Episcopal Church (FAME), the Los Angeles Latino Chamber of Congress (LALCC), the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, Hispanic Organization Promoting Education (HOPE), Brotherhood Crusade, and 100 Black Men of Los Angeles. Through this project, CASA hopes to begin outreach to these specific communities and their respective organizations to find new and creative ways to collaborate and to connect community members as CASA volunteers.

In terms of training, CASA/LA has worked with many partners to create stronger training programs for our volunteers, collaborating with Alliance for Children’s Rights (a year-long continuing education series likely to be repeated), Public Counsel, Children of the Night, Child Development Institute, DCFS, Children’s Law Center, Family Focus Resource Center, KidSave International, USA TIES for Families, and the Human Rights Commission (on an LGBTQ training) to create appropriate, productive training sessions for our CASAs. We would like to continue to expand those training initiatives to include more partners of diversity to help better prepare and support CASAs and the children and youth they serve.

The three factors that are critical to our success with the proposed partnerships are legitimate outreach to the partner’s community, instructive and authentic collaboration between CASA and the partner organization, and informed engagement with our training programs.

How will your project impact the LA2050 “Connect” metrics?

  • Rates of volunteerism
  • Connecting diverse populations through one common goal: helping children in need.

Please elaborate on how your project will impact the above metrics.

Through LA2050, CASA/LA will conduct an aggressive one-year marketing, outreach, and training campaign to increase its current volunteers by 40%, and to create more volunteer engagement within diverse communities of Los Angeles.

By 2050, CASA/LA hopes to become one of the largest and most varied volunteer networks in Los Angeles, providing each abused and neglected child with a CASA from a background that is representative of their experience. In addition, we hope that through the CASA program, we will engage more community members in the needs and opportunities of the foster care system, offering a new generation of Angeleno parents the opportunity to be a part of the foster care system, to provide these children and youth with stable and loving homes.

CASA will not only work to connect CASAs to children within the foster care system, but will be connecting CASAs with CASAs, creating a force of advocacy for our city’s most vulnerable, and often, most neglected children, deepening civic conversations around the child welfare system, education, social justice, and how we can all better serve our children and future.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project.

Statistics on basic demographics of children and advocates will be captured in our database. Over the past several years, CASA has worked with Dr. Jacquelyn McCroskey and doctoral candidate James Simon at the USC School of Social Work, who have provided pro bono assistance in developing systems to collect, measure, and analyze data. CASA has recently taken the next step in developing our capacity in this area by hiring Jessica Payne in October 2013 as our first Research and Evaluation Manager. Jessica is developing a variety of systems to improve our tracking and measurement of client data, with an emphasis on outcome data.

We intend to measure the success of LA2050 through the following metrics:

  1. Collaborate with at least five new partner organizations to expand outreach.
  2. Recruit a minimum of 200 new CASA volunteers by the end of the project period.
  3. Serve a minimum of 400 new children referred by the Court.
  4. Develop additional training components to support the cultural knowledge and cultural sensitivity of all our volunteers.

Regular reports on the organization’s activities are delivered to the Board of Directors by the Executive Director and staff. CASA also meets with the Presiding Judge of the Dependency Court to ensure that the program is addressing the children’s most pressing needs as assessed by judicial officers.

What two lessons have informed your solution or project?

Our CASAs do demanding, challenging, and time-consuming work. Without support and appreciation, it is far too easy to burn out. The media periodically chronicles how the dependency system is “broken” and the challenges that the children face. Our volunteers must and do face these challenges head-on, no matter how much institutional resistance they receive, no matter how horrifying the child’s circumstances. We have realized that in order to prevent this “burn out,” we must not only increase the number and diversity of our CASAs, but we must provide exceptional training, coaching, and support to these volunteers.

The other lesson we have learned is that children have told their CASAs that they felt more comfortable with CASAs who “look more like” them. Therefore, diversifying our pool of volunteers is one of CASA/LA’s highest outreach priorities. All FY2015 recruitment strategies were specifically designed to increase the number of CASA volunteers in a way that also increases the diversity of our volunteer pool.

Explain how implementing your project within the next twelve months is an achievable goal.

We are looking to host an aggressive six-month recruitment campaign where we will be better able to target specific populations through our strategic collaborations and through flyers, events, advertising, social media, and word-of-mouth marketing.

We would then focus the last six months on training new recruits, helping to engage them in our different programs for youth. These include: THE EARLY CHILDHOOD INITIATIVE, which was developed in partnership with Child Development Institute. Through this initiative, our volunteers who serve children age 0-5 participate in additional training and gain a sophisticated understanding of child development, which they bring into every interaction they have with the child, the family, foster family, or other caregivers.

EDUCATIONAL ADVOCACY: Every child deserves a good education. And for children in the dependency system, this need is especially critical–many children in the system experience educational challenges as they move from placement to placement and school to school. That is why CASA of Los Angeles has developed educational advocacy programs that aims to ensure that a child receives consistent education services that move them toward high school graduation and ultimately, college or vocational training

TRANSITION AGE YOUTH: Transitioning into adulthood is a challenge for any adolescent. For youth who have spent years in group or foster homes or who are “aging out” or exiting the foster care system without having secured a safe and permanent home, the risks are substantial. CASAs trained to work with these youth: (1) ensure that exit planning is complete; (2) mentor the young adult through the process of accessing available aid, completing their education, securing housing, transportation, job training and employment; and (3) most importantly, help these young adults gain confidence and obtain self-sufficiency.

Please list at least two major barriers/challenges you anticipate. What is your strategy for ensuring a successful implementation?

Our first barrier will be in connecting with partner organizations. Our staff is small and other organizations their own other priorities as well, but we hope that through the LA2050 project, we will be able to focus our efforts on effective outreach and networking to create strong and productive collaborations.

Our second barrier is engaging the public to become CASA volunteers, but we believe through an aggressive media and marketing campaign, we will be able to recruit and train 200 new volunteers over the next year, increasing our visibility in diverse communities, and beginning to build toward our 2050 goal.

What resources does your project need?

  • Network/relationship support
  • Money (financial capital)
  • Volunteers/staff (human capital)
  • Publicity/awareness (social capital)
  • Education/training
  • Community outreach