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Help Keep Youth in Foster Care Out of Juvenile Delinquency

CASA of Los Angeles

Non-profit organization

Los Angeles County is working to keep young people out of the juvenile delinquency system by providing “diversion” programs. However, youth in foster care are often excluded from these programs because they do not have a parent to oversee their participation. CASA/LA seeks to recruit and train 400 volunteers to serve as advocates for youth in the foster care system who are facing time in juvenile delinquency and who need a community volunteer so they may participate in these diversion programs.



What does your organization do?

CASA of Los Angeles recruits and trains community volunteers (Court Appointed Special Advocates) to serve and advocate for children and youth in the dependency and foster care systems.

Briefly tell us a story that demonstrates how your organization turns inspiration into impact.

CASA volunteers frequently turn inspiration into impact. Whether they are helping a youth to avoid time in the delinquency system, supporting a child’s medical or educational needs, or helping a youth in foster care to secure a permanent and loving home, our volunteers work everyday to turn a child’s hopes into reality. CASA volunteers are key in helping youth develop essential life skills, connecting them with resources, navigating education, medical and legal appointments, and accessing employment and housing.

For many of our CASAs serving crossover youth (youth as they have pending cases in both the dependency care system (foster care) and juvenile delinquency), they might be the only person in the delinquency courtroom who truly knows the child. This happened last year in the case of a CASA youth who was accused of theft. When the youth went to court, he kept turning to his CASA to help him answer the questions. Finally, the judge asked who the person was, and the youth replied, “That’s my CASA.”

When the judge realized the youth had a CASA volunteer, he deferred the case, noting that the youth had someone to guide him towards better decisions. For many youth in the dependency care system, they do not have such a person by their side, and the outcomes of their cases are not as fortunate. CASAs are the one person a youth can trust as they are consistent, caring, stable adults who are not paid to be there. For youth navigating the juvenile justice system, the CASA becomes a crucial lifeline through the judicial process.

Through the Diversion Volunteer program, more Angelenos will have the opportunity to stand by these youth, supporting them in the judicial process, and overseeing their court-ordered programs so that youth don’t find themselves in the juvenile justice pipeline, greatly increasing their chances of adult incarceration, homelessness, and sadly for many young women (and men), sexual trafficking. CASAs can play an important role in diverting these tragic consequences and with the help of more Los Angeles community members, we can guide these youth toward better decisions.

Which of the connect metrics will your submission impact?​

  • Rates of volunteerism

Will your proposal impact any other LA2050 goal categories?

  • LA is the best place to LEARN
  • LA is the healthiest place to LIVE

In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?

  • County of Los Angeles

How will your project make LA the best place to connect?

According to a 2018 study conducted by USC’s Child Data Network, four out of five LA probation youth have received at least one child welfare referral for suspected maltreatment, with many experiencing their first referral early in childhood. These youth are frequently called crossover youth as they have pending cases in both the dependency care system (foster care) and juvenile delinquency. They also have higher rates of unemployment, adult incarceration, and homelessness.

CASA of Los Angeles’ mission is to mobilize community volunteers to advocate for children in the Los Angeles County child welfare system who have experienced abuse and neglect. It is well-documented that child welfare struggles with racial, ethnic, and economic equity. CASA/LA has long recognized these disparities, and has worked to not only serve more children in care in order to ameliorate the consequences of economic, racial and ethnic disparities in the children and families we serve, but to prepare our community volunteers to support the establishment of more equitable opportunities for children and youth within the child welfare system and in life.

Los Angeles County’s Youth Diversion and Development Office is implementing a comprehensive youth diversion model to link youth with community-based organizations that support their development, in lieu of an arrest or citation. Unfortunately, youth in foster care are not able to participate in this program unless a parent or guardian can monitor their participation.

CASA hopes to fill this gap by training and appoint LA community members as advocates for these youth so they can participate in diversion programs. These volunteers will supervise and monitor youth’s participation in their diversion programs by advocating for access to services, supporting youth in navigating challenges with community based organizations (requests to change provider, address conflicts, etc.), addressing barriers to successful completion of the diversion plan (e.g., transportation), monitoring progress within the program, and coordinating between various parties on youth’s team. Through LA2050, CASA/LA will recruit and train 400 volunteers to serve this specific group of youth.

CASA is in the early stages of developing the program, reaching out to current CASA volunteers to develop best practices, and working directly with the LA Dependency Court judicial officers to determine the best strategies for referral and assignment of CASA volunteers to crossover cases. CASA anticipates developing the training for this program over the summer of 2019, with a program to launch by mid-fall.

Through this program, more youth would avoid juvenile convictions through the assignment of a CASA volunteer, so they may participate in diversion programs, providing LA community members the opportunity to help youth in foster care avoid the juvenile justice system, and live happier, healthier, more equitable lives.

In what stage of innovation is this project?

Pilot project (testing a new idea on a small scale to prove feasibility)

Please explain how you will define and measure success for your project.

In 2016, CASA/LA completed the full implementation and training for our new monitoring database Efforts to Outcomes (ETO) Social Solutions, which provides a way to track case progress, and is the beginning of outcomes measurement at CASA. When a case is assigned, both the Advocate Supervisors and the CASA volunteer examine the case and rate the status and level of risk of the child on a baseline scale along the three core dimensions of safety, permanency and well being. We are documenting in the database the initial assessment related to these dimensions; the advocacy goals and plans (steps and procedures to be implemented); the degree to which the plan is then implemented; and how the assessment of safety, permanency, and well-being measures changes over time. Through ETO, we will not only be able to track youth who are being served through the diversion program, but how the corresponding advocacy has impacted their lives.

How can the LA2050 community and other stakeholders help your proposal succeed?

  • Access to LA2050 community
  • Host public events on the topic your organization’s issue area (e.g. access to capital, education reform, clean energy, etc.)
  • Communications support, including traditional media, social media, and LA2050 newsletter
  • Publicity/awareness
  • Capacity, including staff
  • Strategy assistance and implementation

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