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CASA is Broken 

Editor:

On reading your article about CASA I was struck by the fact that no current or former CASAs [court-appointed special advocates] were interviewed with the exception of one short time CASA (“The CASA,” April 23). For a complete and honest picture one must go to the people in the field, so to speak.

I was a CASA for seven years and have spoken with many other CASAs about their experiences. I was on my last case for five years. Many if not most of the children that are assigned to CASAs have been severely traumatized and/or abused on one or more levels. Trust does not come easily to these children.

What happens to them when they enter the system often adds to their load. Imagine what it’s like for a child when a perfect stranger comes to their home and puts them in a car and takes them away. Sometimes they have just watched their parent(s) being arrested. They get taken to a strange house and told that this is their new home. They must then adjust to living with complete strangers in a strange place and, if of school age, will be placed in a new school. They may not take anything with them, not their teddy bear or their “banky” — nothing. Everything is new and strange. Many foster homes are good but many are not. Many are run by well-meaning people who have not received the training, support and information that they need in order to do a good job. Many are surprised that the child they have taken in has severe behavior problems, may steal, run away, swear, fight and more. One foster home I experienced was simply running a business with nine children. Food was locked away so the children could not help themselves.

My CASA child was in five schools in five years. He was moved from foster home to foster home, a brief stint with a parent and then another home. Everything in these children’s lives is pulled out from under them over and over again. Social workers are changed all the time, as well as attorneys. This child’s belongings often disappeared when the child was moved. The schools tried to help this child (some more than others) but were not equipped to help a child as problem laden as this child was.

I worked hard on my court reports but have no reason to believe that they accomplished anything. I repeatedly said that this child needed long-term therapy with a therapist trained and experienced at working with severely disturbed children. What the county supplies is one hour a week with a therapist fresh out of school. I called them “therapists in training.” Those were wasted hours and wasted resources. I fought as hard as I could against the quick fix of prescribing drugs for ADHD. The first time that they succeeded in giving them the child was like a zombie and got pitifully thin. At the next attempt to prescribe the drugs I went along to the appointment to the doctor that does the evaluations for the county and quickly realized that it was a rubber-stamp procedure.

I could go on, but the bottom line is that the system is a very poor one that can, and often does, more damage to the children caught up in it. What a CASA can do is extremely limited and he or she should not expect much, if any, support from the director of CASA. My case came to an end when a social worker decided to tell my CASA child that I had referred to her/him as “severely disturbed.” He/she immediately decided that I was the “enemy” because to a youngster “severely disturbed” means “crazy.”

What we have is a costly system that doesn’t work and that often is damaging to the very clients it is meant to protect. Alternatives that do not tear families apart must be looked for, wherever possible. Perhaps the answer could be having a person who is well trained in parenting skills and dealing with addicts, nutrition, etc. spend four hours a day in the home, working with parents. What the answer is not is CASA or the current system.

Sylvia De Rooy, Westhaven

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