When we began to sense that Ava’s caseworker may not be making decisions in Ava’s (or her family’s best interest), we began pushing back. We would write e-mails to her CW, to our Certifier, and her lawyer. Often we would get a response that sounded something like “We hear your concern, and we will take it into consideration”, and we would realize that in the end DHS is not obligated to listen to the concerns of foster parents, and foster parents have very little clout regarding the legal decisions being made for the children they are caring for. It was at this point that we started the process of requesting a CASA for Ava.
In Oregon, all children in foster care have the right to a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA). A CASA is a person whose sole purpose is to advocate for what is best for the kiddo they are associated with. They are appointed to kiddos/cases (“cases” is such a dehumanizing way to view children) by the courts, but it usually requires a request for a CASA to come from a foster parent or the child themselves. A CASA is a volunteer who works with the system, but is not part of the system, and their only focus is making sure that all decisions made are in the best interest of their kiddo. They do not answer to DHS, they do not answer to the foster parents or the bio parents, they advocate for what is best for the children. CASAs have the legal right to meet with the kids, their foster parents, their teachers and therapist, and provide valuable information and perspective to the courts, which allows for decisions to be made in the best interest of the children.
“A CASA is a person whose sole purpose is to advocate for what is best for the kiddo they are associated with.”
You can learn more about CASAs, including how to support them, how to become one, and the role they play, here. Two of our kiddos have had CASAs, and we are currently starting the process of requesting a CASA for our current kids.
The following are e-mails and letters we wrote to initiate the process of assigning a CASA for Ava. We had no idea what we were doing. Ava’s CW told us we she didn’t need a CASA. Her Mom seemed thankful that we were trying to get one. In the end, Ava had a CASA who looked out for her best interest as she transitioned home and her family transitioned out of DHS.
To: Ava’s Lawyer
From: Aaron and Jewell
Subject: Ava – Request for CASA
Attachment: Request for CASA
Hi *Ava’s Lawyer*,
I know we haven’t had an opportunity to touch base yet, but we are the foster parents to Ava. We were talking with a friend, who is also a CASA, and they suggested that we request a CASA for Ava. Although we were aware that there was such thing as a CASA, we were not sure how to ask for one, and we were not provided much information regarding the benefits they provide for children in foster care, when Ava was placed with us. We would like to request a CASA for Ava. Our friend told us that the proper protocol is to write a letter to the judge or referee assigned to the court, and send in a hard copy, and request a member of Ava’s legal team also present the letter to the judge or referee.
Attached is the letter we have written the Referee, requesting a CASA. We will send in a hard copy in the morning. Will you please contact the Referee and provide him with our or your request for a CASA?
Also, did you receive our previous e-mail? Please confirm receipt of this e-mail and the previous e-mail we sent. Let us know if you have any questions or comments, or if we are not going about this the right way. We will be notifying Ava’s CW of our request as well.
Attachment: Request for CASA
Department of Community Justice
Court Case Number: XXXXXXXXXXXX
DHS Case Number: XXXXXX
Subject: Request for appointment of CASA for Ava
We are writing you to request that a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) be assigned to Ava to advocate for her wellbeing and best interest during her time within the Department of Human Services (DHS) foster care system.
As Ava’s current foster parents, we care deeply for her and want what is best for her at all times. We believe that a CASA would be very beneficial for Ava, as she is just over 1-year old, and is not able to verbally communicate her needs or her opinions to DHS, her caseworker, or her lawyer. A CASA would objectively look at the case, and provide an informed recommendation for what they feel is best for Ava at any given stage throughout this case.
As Ava’s foster parents, we have reached out to DHS, her caseworker, and her lawyer, providing unsolicited information and thoughts regarding our hopes, concerns, and opinions pertaining to Ava’s reunification plan. Although we have provided this conduit of communication, we have been frustrated with the lack of communication we have received from the team, and believe that a CASA could provide a more formal avenue for team communication.
We realize that this request for a CASA is being submitted very close to a court date, and you may be wondering why it is being submitted now. There are two parts to this answer. First, this is our first placement, and our only long term placement to date. As newer foster parents, we are not aware of all of the resources available to us and to the kids we care for. When we learned about CASAs and how request one, we immediately began the process, as our goal is to provide children in our care with every possible resource to succeed, and for our future placements, we will be requesting CASAs as soon as reasonably possible or needed. Second, we are concerned that the reunification plan may be changing in ways that do not reflect Ava’s best interest and wellbeing, and we feel our concerns regarding this were not adequately addressed by DHS when we presented them. We believe that a CASA can provide another objective review of the decisions being made on Ava’s behalf.
Thank you for your time and consideration,
Aaron and Jewell
Foster Parents to Ava