CASA ASKS: Do CASA volunteers make a difference?

This is the second post in a series of three from SCAN’s CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) Program, written by Lindsay Warner Ferrer. Lindsay is a CASA Case Supervisor and was previously a trained volunteer with the program.

AR_FemaleCasaThe Alexandria/Arlington Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Program provides trained volunteers appointed by the Court to serve as a direct voice for children in the juvenile court system. Volunteers conduct interviews with the children, families, and professionals involved in the case, monitor compliance with the Court orders, and attend Court hearings where they advocate for the best interest of the child.

While it’s difficult to evaluate a CASA volunteer’s impact, many local and national studies have tried to capture some of the important ways CASA volunteers help court-involved children. One large study using CASA program data and a national data set found that:

  • Children with a CASA volunteer received significantly more services than children without a CASA volunteer, particularly mental health services and medical services.
  • Parents of children with a CASA volunteer received significantly more services than parents of children without a CASA volunteer.
  • In over 80 percent of cases, all or almost all of CASA volunteers’ recommendations to the Judge were accepted.

Another study, a large survey of judges in areas with CASA programs, found that:

  • 97 percent of judges agree that children and families are better served because of CASA volunteer involvement.
  • 97 percent agree than the personal knowledge that CASA volunteers have about children is beneficial to the judges’ decision-making.
  • Judges particularly value volunteers’ ability to consider the best interests of children and monitor the case.

More rigorous studies, such as those that randomly assign children to a CASA volunteer or a control condition, would be invaluable to help better isolate and quantify the impact of CASA volunteers.

While CASA volunteers love their role and want to help children, we all wish that the CASA role wasn’t necessary. Stay tuned for an upcoming post on a great way to prevent abuse and neglect from happening in the first place – home visiting programs for new parents.

– Lindsay

CASA volunteers advocate for the best interests of many of these children in court. In Alexandria and Arlington, 77 volunteers served 177 children in 2012. Stay tuned for an upcoming post on how CASA volunteers can make a difference in the lives of abuse and neglected children.

Legislative Update: A letter (and video!) to SCAN from Senator Barbara Favola

This week we welcome Senator Barbara Favola to the blog! A longtime supporter of our issues and a SCAN Honorary Board Member, we’re thrilled that she’s giving us an important update following the end of Virginia’s legislation session last month.

Dear Friends,

The 2013 General Assembly legislative session ended last week and it was a whirlwind.  Senate Democrats held together and got a commitment from Governor McDonnell to participate in the Medicaid Expansion Program after certain reforms are in place.

[youtube=]Expanding Medicaid would enable up to 400,000 working Virginians gain access to health care coverage and this expansion would also create some 30,000 jobs.

The Governor’s commitment in this area helped me and 16 other Democrats vote for a comprehensive Transportation Funding Plan that wasn’t perfect but it was good.

Two of my foster care bills are on their way to the Governor’s desk.  One of these bills enables foster youth between the ages of 18 and 21 who are released from the Department of Juvenile Justice to access Independent Living Services.  The other is a joint resolution that directs the Department of Social Services to conduct a study on foster care and adoption assistance payments for individuals up to 21 years of age.  Federal dollars are available to fund extended subsidies but Virginia is not accessing these dollars.

Thank you for the advocacy that many of you demonstrated in support of my legislative efforts to protect children and families.  I look forward to providing you with periodic updates on Virginia’s participation in the Medicaid Expansion program.


Barbara Favola
Senate of Virginia
31st District
About Senator Favola:                       

Senator Barbara A. Favola represents Virginia’s 31st district, which includes parts of Arlington and Fairfax counties, and a portion of Loudoun County.

She served on the Arlington County Board for fourteen years (1997-2011) and chaired that body three times.  During her service with the County, Senator Favola was the Board’s leading advocate for children, youth and families, and her contributions to the community include establishing mental health services in the public schools.

Throughout her public life she has been a vigorous supporter of universal human rights.

In the Virginia Senate, Barbara is focusing her legislative efforts on public safety, women’s reproductive rights, health care expansion, K-12 education funding, social services, foster children and domestic violence issues.  She is also dedicated to environmental stewardship and maintaining the ban on uranium mining.  Senator Favola serves on Virginia’s Senate Local Government Committee, Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee, and Transportation Committee. She is now the Chair of the Women’s Reproductive Health Caucus. 

In 2012, Senator Favola was given a 100% rating from the Virginia League of Conservation Voters and NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia for her efforts during the legislative session to support the environment and women’s rights, respectively.  She also received the Virginia Peters Nonprofit Friend of the Year Award from the Housing Association of Nonprofit Developers (HAND).  Senator Favola was appointed to the Executive Board of the Women’s Legislative Network of NCSL (National Conference of State Legislators) as the Democratic Representative for the Southern Region.

Senator Favola and her husband Douglas Weik have been residents of Arlington and the 31st district since 1982. Their son, Donald P. Weik, is a senior at George Mason University. 




Raising Issues, Raising Voices

Last week we hosted a special Training for Citizen Advocates on Children’s Issues. So often at SCAN we work directly with individual children and families, but we also take time to focus on state-wide issues impacting thousands of families in our region. Along with Prevent Child Abuse VirginiaVoices for Virginia’s Children and The Commonwealth Institute we hosted elected officials Sen. Barbara Favola (a SCAN Honorary Board Member), Del. Charniele Herring and Del. Dave Albo (see a photo of our guests at the bottom of this post!)  The day included a basic advocacy training and policy briefing, as well as a legislative briefing for the more than 50 participants learning how to best make their voices heard on behalf of children and families.

(The press was there, too! Read more about the training in the West End Alexandria Patch here.)

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So many of our friends and supporters ask us how their voices can be heard as they speak up for children in our community. Here are three basic steps based on what we learned at the training to get you started:

1. Get educated. We’re especially interested in Medicaid Expansion in Virginia and what it means for children and families. Whatever the topic, learn as much as you can and be a resource for your community and local legislators. The Commonwealth Institute has great information on Medicaid Expansion here.

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2. Go to Richmond. On January 23rd, SCAN staff and volunteers with our CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) Program will head to the General Assembly in Richmond for our annual Advocacy Day. Want to join us? Meet your legislators? Discuss children’s issues? Contact us for more information.

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3. Contact your legislators. You may hear it all the time, but one of the elected officials at our training said that if their office receives just FIVE LETTERS on a particular subject, then it’s important enough to take more time on that issue. FIVE LETTERS! What an empowering piece of information! Our Virginia legislators cover so many issues in a given year, and they rely on constituents to voice their concerns and help them focus on the most critical topics. Find out who your legislators are here.

It’s so important that we KEEP TALKING. So, how do you advocate for children and families? What issues are most important to you and your community as we head into the 2013 legislative session? Let us know in the comments section below.

SCANSnapshot: An anything-but-routine routine

Our most recent Allies in Prevention Coalition gathering was an average, run-of-the-mill meeting for us. Twenty+ attendees? Check. Hosted at a local public building? Check. Lunch provided? Check.

But the funny thing is, these meetings are anything but average. You see, the Coalition brings together local child & family advocates from across Northern Virginia on a quarterly basis and the results are remarkable: resources are shared across jurisdictions, issues brought to light and addressed as a larger community, and direct resource providers–those working on a daily basis with some of our community’s most at-risk families–find a source of energy and inspiration in what can be a very challenging,  draining work environment.

We’re proud of the work this Coalition does, everything from distributing thousands of parent education materials to honoring local prevention heroes every April to simply providing a sounding board and shoulder for those working every day to change the lives of children in our community.

Our September meeting, captured in photos above, focused on the Importance of Routine in the lives of children. (You can find the fact sheets we developed in English and Spanish here.) What a fitting word to bring up–“routine”–as we touch on the importance of these regularly scheduled Coalition meetings. They provide a sense of stability and connection to other local child advocates, a source of resources and respite in an often stressful and overwhelming industry.

This is a routine we’re proud to provide. And we invite you to join us anytime! In fact, our next Coalition gathering is a great opportunity:

Speak Up for Children: Training for Virginia Child Advocates

November 30, 2012

9:00 – 2:00 PM  |  Advocacy Training, Policy Briefing, Legislative Briefing

2:30 – 4:00 PM  |  Allies in Prevention Coalition Quarterly Meeting

> Learn more about the event on Facebook


We hope to see you there! Questions? Feel free to contact us at

Please consider JOINING the Coalition! Learn more here.

SCANSnapshot: 14 new reasons to have hope

Last month we welcomed 14 new volunteers to our CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) Program at a swearing-in ceremony by Alexandria and Arlington Juvenile Court Judges. These new volunteers have an incredibly diverse range of experiences and backgrounds that will be invaluable as they give a voice to abused and neglected children in our community. We welcome Claire Cifaloglio, Cary Cochran, Bishop Garrison, Laura Harmon, Elayne Haymes, Martha Napier, Laurie Nathan, Dorothy Ndegwa, Trish O’Connor McGill, Maribel Ramos, Julie Rizzo, Alexandra Roncal, Danielle Malek Roosa, and Joel Trosch. (And we can’t wait to work with them!)

Being a CASA volunteer is not easy. Perhaps that’s why we’re so inspired every time a new group of volunteers goes through the training and interviews and finally makes a commitment to our program. Whether a volunteer has been with us for 10 years or 10 days, they are an inspiration to us. A reason to believe that one more child will have an advocate working for their best interests every step of the way.

So welcome, new volunteers! And thank you for the hours of unselfish time and energy you have already given to the program and, most importantly, what you are now equipped to give to the children for whom you will advocate. YOU are the reason our advocacy makes an impact.

Back to School Bash + Fancy Free Friday!

It’s that time of year…our kids are hitting the books, schedules are filling up and families across our area are getting back into the swing of school. With all of the excitement, we sometimes forget about the stress kids (and parents, too!) experience in the rush of September. Take time this week to start the school year off right:

1. Set aside time to talk with your kids every day after school. Ask questions. LISTEN to answers without judgement!

2. Make a commitment to meet their teachers, coaches and other adults in their school life.

3. Celebrate their success in school all year long (see below for a great way to kick off the party this week!) – how YOU approach school rubs off on them.

Our Parent Resource Center offers a variety of resources on topics including Advocating for your Child in School, Stress Management, Handling Bullying, Parent-Teacher Relationships and more. Be sure to check it out!

And now back to celebrating…we have a great FANCY FREE FRIDAY giveaway to help your family have its own Back to School Bash this weekend:

We’re giving away One Dozen Mini Cupcakes from Bittersweet Bakery in Alexandria. To enter to win, simply share one way you connect with your kids after a long day at school.

We’ll announce a winner Friday just in time for the weekend – can’t wait to hear your great ideas!