2023 Grants Challenge

Transformative Advocacy for Systems-Impacted Youth

Using a strengths-based approach, CASA/LA's highly trained and dedicated volunteers (Court Appointed Special Advocates or CASAs) fill the gaps in LA County's overburdened foster care and youth justice systems by providing transformative one-on-one advocacy for system-impacted youth. CASAs provide children with life-affirming connections, resources and opportunities, particularly around permanency (placement in a stable home), physical and mental health, and education, and help guide the court's decisions towards more trauma-informed solutions.


What is the primary issue area that your application will impact?

Support for Foster and Systems-Impacted Youth

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

County of Los Angeles

In what stage of innovation is this project, program, or initiative?

Expand existing project, program, or initiative

What is your understanding of the issue that you are seeking to address?

There are ~30,000 children in LA County foster care - the largest child welfare system in the nation. LA County's overworked judges, attorneys and social workers are unable to provide these young people with the individualized care they need to thrive. Most children in the system are struggling with the emotional ramifications of a disrupted home environment and too often this results in distressing outcomes. On any given night in LA, 3,000+ young adults experience homelessness, 31% of whom report involvement in child welfare. In CA prisons, 28% of inmates have been in foster care. CASA youth had an especially difficult time with virtual learning and now must work harder than their peers not in care to catch up. Only 61% of CA students in foster care graduated from high school in 2021-22, compared to 90% of non-foster students. These unacceptable consequences disproportionately impact young people of color - the majority of the children served by LA County dependency care and CASA/LA.

Describe the project, program, or initiative this grant will support to address the issue.

CASA/LA's advocacy program for systems-impacted youth uses a strengths-based approach, emphasizing a child's positive attributes while advocating for their needs and rights. CASAs are matched with a child in need of individualized support, investigate all areas of the child's life, report their findings and make trauma-informed and culturally relevant recommendations to the courts. Throughout this process, they highlight the child's strengths and capabilities when working with social workers, attorneys, judges, and others involved in the case. CASAs work collaboratively as part of the child's team and strive to engage the child and their family in the decision-making process. CASAs focus on making sure that appropriate services are coordinated and the child's needs are met, particularly around placement in a stable home, physical and mental health, and education. By building strong, trusting relationships with the youth they advocate for and getting to know the child's interests, talents, and aspirations, CASAS can make sure that the child's voice is heard and that their own wants are considered when developing plans to support them. CASAs' efforts are focused on ensuring that young people exit the child welfare and juvenile justice systems as soon as possible, avoid re-entry and recidivism, have everything they need to succeed in school, heal and learn to cope with their trauma, safely return to their communities, and have long-term supports in place for their future.

Describe how Los Angeles County will be different if your work is successful.

Our vision is a Los Angeles in which all children and families impacted by these systems have equitable access to the resources and support they need to thrive. CASA/LA makes the crucial connection - one consistent, dedicated advocate to one child in need. CASA/LA's close relationship with the courts makes our program unique and allows CASAs to communicate important information from a strengths-based perspective to child welfare professionals (i.e. dependency judges) that can change the trajectory of a young person's life. Children matched with CASAs receive more coordinated medical, mental health, educational and other services while in the system; are more likely to find placement in a stable home; experience improved educational achievement; and are less likely to re-enter foster care and the juvenile justice system. Investing in the youth of our community by supporting volunteers who help improve the well-being of youth in foster care benefits all of Los Angeles County.

What evidence do you have that this project, program, or initiative is or will be successful, and how will you define and measure success?

CASA/LA's existing program aims to reduce risks and increase positive outcomes for at least 75% of the youth we serve. Our internal data monitoring system, Efforts to Outcomes (ETO), measures individual case progress (on an ongoing basis) and overall outcomes (on an annual basis). Data sets measure the percentages of youth who have experienced improved outcomes in the areas of permanency, physical health, mental health, and education. In FY2022, CASAs closed advocacy cases for 387 of the 1,308 children served. Positive outcomes included children returning to their family home, moving to a less restrictive placement, enrolling in an appropriate educational setting, and receiving vital medical, emotional, educational, and other necessary services. Program outcomes for CASA youth at case closure included: 69% were in permanent placement; 66% experienced improved educational outcomes; 66% experienced improved mental health outcomes; and 90% maintained or improved their physical health.

Approximately how many people will be impacted by this project, program, or initiative?

Direct Impact: 1,100

Indirect Impact: 1,300