Fall 2017 
 

Every day, I'm reminded of the importance of our work. The reminder might be a heartwarming story about a volunteer who discovered new family connections for her case youth, or an anecdote about a youth who's receiving needed educational support. Sadly, sometimes the reminder is news of a child in foster care who faces another impasse in California's overburdened child welfare system. In cases like these, I think to myself that the child would be in a better situation if they had a CASA volunteer by their side.

It is incredibly rewarding to know that we are making a difference in the lives of the children we serve. Foster youth with CASA volunteers have a better chance for success than foster youth without a dedicated advocate. For instance, youth with CASAs are more likely to graduate from high school, more quickly find a permanent home, and have a more positive attitude about life and their future.

I am continuously inspired by the work of every member of the California CASA community - the 430 staff, almost 8,000 volunteers and, of course, the more than 13,000 infants, children, and youth who have a CASA volunteer. Together, we can inspire others to become CASA volunteers and make a difference in the lives of abused and neglected children in our state. Together, we can achieve our vision of every foster child having the consistent support of a CASA volunteer!
 
Warm regards,
 
Mim Carlson
Interim CEO
California CASA Association
Welcome to Lily Dorman Colby, Esq.
   
California CASA is pleased to introduce our newest staff member, Lily Dorman Colby, Policy and Program Coordinator. Lily has volunteered and worked in government offices, non-profits and community organizations for over 10 years. She received her Bachelor's degree in economics from Yale University and her Juris Doctor from the UC Berkeley School of Law. Prior to joining California CASA, Lily held fellowships and internships at organizations including the Child Welfare League of America, the National Center for Youth Law, the Youth Law Center, and the ABA Center on Children in the Law. She was recently appointed to serve on the ABA Commission on Youth at Risk and also serves on the Board of Directors for Legal Services for Children and the Center for Independent Living. Lily is personally invested in improving the lives of at risk youth because of her experiences as an alumna of the foster care system, a caregiver to a sibling with disabilities, and a licensed foster parent.

As Policy and Program Coordinator, Lily will lead California CASA's efforts to support and implement legislation that helps our programs better serve foster youth and improve foster youth's outcomes. Lily will work with local programs, community partners, and legislators to advocate for the best interest of local programs and foster youth. Welcome, Lily!
Policy and State Budget Update

This has been an exciting year in child welfare policy. Advocates were successful in getting three major child welfare budget requests approved: 1)improved funding for dependency counsel statewide, 2) funding for public health nurses to improve the accountability and tracking of psychotropic medication given to our foster youth and 3) funding for childcare gap payments for foster youth.

Additionally, there are a number of bills that have thus far been successful in the legislature that would help foster and probation youth. The following three bills are several of the most compelling and impactful bills that California CASA is supporting:
  1. SB 12, sponsored by John Burton Advocates for Youth, is a bill aimed at improving the college success of foster youth. It does so by streamlining the financial aid processes for foster youth and by ensuring more community college campuses will have foster youth support programs;
     
  2. SB 233, the Caregiver Educational Access bill, which would help close the foster youth achievement gap by ensuring foster parents are trained on foster youth-specific educational rights and have access to educational records, bringing California law in line with the Federal Educational Rights Privacy Act; and
     
  3. AB 811, is a bill sponsored by California Youth Connection and the Youth Law Center aimed at allowing youth in detention facilities to have the right to access computers and the internet for educational purposes, and for connecting with family members, and supportive adults such as CASAs.
At the time of this writing, we don't know the fate of SB 12, SB 233 and AB 811 because the Governor has until October 15 to make final decisions, but California CASA, along with many local programs across the state have been engaged and pro-active in supporting this legislation, and we are hopeful these bills and a number of others we are supporting will be passed into law.
 
Calaveras County Launches First CASA Program

We're excited to announce that in August 2017, Calaveras County became the 51st county in the state to establish a CASA program. Over the last year, volunteers, representatives from community agencies, and the Calaveras County Superior Court partnered to form the new Calaveras County CASA program. With an estimated 150 children in dependency each year and the numbers growing steadily due to the prevalence of substance abuse in the rural county of 45,000, a CASA program was critically needed.

"The time is right to have a CASA program here. Many of the children who have faced abuse and neglect need that one person who will stick by them and help them navigate through a difficult, hard time," shared Ileana Grycel, foster parent and volunteer.

The many steps to become a CASA program included obtaining a membership with the National CASA Association as well as having the endorsement from the California CASA Association. Karen Finan, program director for California CASA, stated, "We are so pleased that Calaveras County can better serve the children in the foster care system, and we at California CASA will provide ongoing support to the program as it grows, and as they recruit more CASA volunteers to serve more children."

CASA of Calaveras received some initial funding from the Judicial Council of California, which helps new programs get on their feet. In addition, the program was just awarded a grant from First 5 Calaveras, which will help the program manage a portion of the case load for children who have faced abuse and are newborn to five years. Because of the vulnerability of this age group, CASAs who work with infants and small children will be specially trained to understand early developmental stages and help to overcome and prevent further trauma.

The program has complimentary office space in the Calaveras County Court House in San Andreas, and is operating as a non-profit program under Nexus Youth and Family Services in Jackson, in Amador County. Nexus oversees the Amador CASA program as well. "Having a tandem program in their adjacent county will bolster the CASA of Calaveras program and ensure its success," stated Lori Halvorson, Amador CASA Director at Nexus. CASA of Calaveras Program Manager Fara Roberts staffs the office in San Andreas, and is excited by the progress they've already made. "We already have two CASA volunteers nearly ready to be sworn in," Fara said, "and plan to do another CASA training in the fall."

If you have friends and family in the Sierra foothills looking to improve children's lives, encourage them to be among the first CASAs in Calaveras. They don't have a website yet but they do have an office phone line for volunteer inquiries: 209-754-9816. 
  

CASA of Calaveras Steering Committee
Front row, l-r: Heather O'leary, foster mom; Teri Lane, Director of First 5; Robin Davis, Prevent Child Abuse Council; Barbara Yook, District Attorney; Maggie Rollings, adoptive mom; Heather Rickerson, CASA trainee; Fara Roberts, Program Coordinator; Ileana Grycel, foster parent and volunteer. Back row, l-r: Honorable Timothy Healy, Sam Leach, Chief Probation Officer, Kathryn Eustice, Calaveras County Office of Education.
Denis Loiseau: Seeing the Light in Every Child's Eyes

Denis Loiseau has been involved with CASA for 30 years, since 1987, just ten years after the first CASA program was founded in Seattle.

In the mid-1980s, Denis moved to Marin County with his wife, Susan, when he was working in the insurance industry. He wanted to get involved in his community, and sought out possible board positions through the Volunteer Center in Marin. Marin CASA was his first and only interview because of the strong impact that the CASA program and mission had on him. Denis' wife had spent time in foster care as a teenager, and upon hearing about the CASA mission, Susan shared with Denis that she wished she'd had a CASA while she was in foster care. She also gave him permission from the start to share that information.

In the 30 years since Denis' first appointment as a CASA program board member in Marin County, he has also served on the California CASA Board of Directors, including as Board Chair, and is an emeritus board member. Denis is now an advisor to California CASA and has been involved in our annual Lifting Hearts fundraiser for several years, generously donating a stay at his gorgeous vacation home in Mexico for auction - which has become a highlight of the event.

Though Denis' professional career has been in insurance, most recently as a founding principal of ABD Insurance and Financial Services, Inc. in 2012, he has devoted his free time to his music and songwriting avocation. Music has always been part of his life. After playing folk and blues in coffeehouses in his hometown of Denver, Denis moved to California, performing with various bands in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1980's and '90's. As time went on, his muse turned to songwriting. Since then, Denis has licensed original songs to Nashville publishers, various music libraries, and composed for film and theater. In 2015, Denis wrote the song "Every Child's Eyes" with Irish co-writer Maurice Byrne and co-produced the music video for the California CASA Association as a unique volunteer recruitment and fundraising tool to be made available to local CASA programs.The song tells the story of a young boy in foster care, and how his CASA volunteer helped him find a forever family. The production of the video was generously supported by the Walter S. Johnson Foundation and many others.

The California CASA Board and Staff deeply appreciate Denis and Susan Loiseau's contributions over the years and ongoing commitment to growing and sustaining the CASA program, and for their belief that all children are our children, in need of caring attention and support.

To watch the "Every Child's Eyes" music video, click here.

"It's up to you and me to be the ones who care... To keep a light in every child's eyes." - Lyrics from "Every Child's Eyes"
Patience and Preserverance: CASA Mark's Story
 
 
Mark, a volunteer with San Francisco CASA, shared this story about Brandon, who entered the system just before his 18th birthday.

When Mark was first assigned to work with Brandon, the young man was homeless and heavily using substances to address untreated mental health issues. Brandon didn't want to accept the housing options that were available to him, and he often didn't show up for his scheduled meetings with his social worker. It took Mark three-and-a-half months of weekly outreach to Brandon before they met in person for the first time.

But CASA Mark was persistent. He understood the real consequences of untreated mental health issues, and was compassionate toward Brandon during each of their appointments. He brought Brandon homemade meals. He got Brandon access to corrective lenses and supported Brandon in completing his mental health assessments. These small victories mostly occurred while Brandon was homeless. 

Over time, CASA Mark learned more about Brandon's family, and shared this information to help investigate possible supportive kin connections. He also helped recover both the communication and rapport among the others on Brandon's professional support team.

Mark partnered with the Independent Living Skills Program (ILSP) to support Brandon in applying for housing, which he eventually secured. With the help of ILSP, Mark helped Brandon apply for supportive employment opportunities.

Brandon had multiple brushes with potential loss of housing due to his challenging behaviors, but Mark continued to encourage Brandon to fully consider the ramifications of his decisions. Mark always showed up, engaged in sometimes difficult conversations with Brandon, and offered support in every way he could.  

Brandon left foster care after his 21st birthday, but his relationship with CASA Mark continues. The two still meet regularly, and Brandon has maintained employment and housing, with the help and support of his advocate, Mark.
In Memoriam: Janet Pasha, July 21, 1939 - July 16, 2017 

California CASA Association wishes to remember
Janet "Jan" Pasha for her dedication and lasting contributions to advancing the CASA mission. Jan and George, her husband of more than 50 years, first became involved with CASA in Marin. They were donors and served on the board of directors, over the years helping to lead the organization in its growth. They coached then executive director Robin Allen on how best to work and communicate with donors. In more recent years, Jan and George and their children also became supporters of California CASA, for which we are deeply grateful. They were humble, unassuming people, committed to philanthropy. Jan and George left a legacy of generosity and community participation that is being carried forward by their children
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