In 1990, the first CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) volunteer was appointed to advocate for one child’s best interest in Talbot County. Since that first appointment this organization has advocated for children in thousands of ways and helped improve outcomes for children in need of assistance. Now, CASA of the Mid-Shore is a regional program serving four counties: Talbot, Dorchester, Queen Anne’s, and Kent.
Robin Davenport, CASA’s Executive Director, shares, “one CASA volunteer making a positive difference by speaking up for one child is our proverbial North Star, providing an unwavering, hopeful light. It guides us in the certainty that a better future is a real possibility for each child we serve. If asked in 1990 for my vision of our program, my answer would have referenced our goal to provide a Court Appointed Special Advocate to 100% of the children who need our services. As we enter the year 2020 celebrating our 30th anniversary, we ARE serving 100% of the vulnerable children referred to our program. As milestones go, this is enormous, and it is due to the collective efforts and ongoing commitment of our incredible volunteers, Board members, staff, judges and magistrates, friends, donors, and grantors that we have achieved this historic landmark.”
So, what is ahead for CASA of the Mid-Shore? Knowing there will be situations involving more Children in Need of Assistance who will benefit from CASA’s advocacy, CASA will help them just as steadily and consistently as they have for the past 30 years. Simultaneously, this model program is embarking on a pilot project with the Dorchester County Circuit Court’s Truancy Reduction Program. The Honorable Brett Wilson and the Truancy Reduction Program team, deeply troubled about young children with multiple unexcused absences from school, asked for CASA’s assistance. Judge Wilson’s concern led him to the groundbreaking concept of appointing CASA volunteers to some of these children’s cases. With assistance from the Maryland Judiciary’s Department of Family Administration, CASA is embarking on an advocacy project in Truancy Reduction Court for young children as young as six years of age found by the court to be truant and in need of services.
Chronic truancy is a scary predictor of serious risk for children and families and is often a symptom of deeper family or community issues. Research reflects that truant children are disproportionately youth of color; from low income families; youth with special education needs; youth and families with mental health needs; and/or youth who have experienced adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). Often these children are at increased risk of adverse experiences including maltreatment, poor academic achievement, a low likelihood of graduating from high school, low self-esteem, homelessness, juvenile delinquency, mental health issues, hunger, and malnourishment.
National studies have found that as many as 88% of truant youth qualify for free or reduced meals. When those same children miss school, they not only lose academic ground, they may also be missing up to two meals per day. The bad news is truancy continues to increase, as do waiting lists for needed services to truant children and their families.
The good news is that the Court Appointed Special Advocacy model has long shown effectiveness in connecting with youth. National studies show the model of one-on-one best-interest advocacy and mentoring for children, collaboration with agency partners, and heightened assistance to the court works. One-on-one supportive relationships between CASAs and youth have proven to be particularly effective with youth in at-risk situations. By gathering information for the court and advocating for children’s best interest, CASA volunteers have opportunities to guide truant youth and their families and assist them in developing their fullest potentials.
Celebrating 30 years of unique service to vulnerable children and looking ahead at groundbreaking avenues for additional advocacy to local children, Robin adds, “We will keep our eyes on our own North Star. It will continue to guide us in shining a light of hope, one child at a time.”
For more information about CASA, visit www.casamidshore.org or call 410-822-2866.