Yolo County CASA History

          The Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program has been serving foster youth in the U.S. for almost four decades, and over two decades here in Yolo County. CASA was the brainchild of Seattle Superior Court Judge David Soukup, who, in 1977 was making decisions regarding placements of children in the foster care system, and, dissatisfied with some of the outcomes, wanted to hear more of the child's perspective. His idea was simple:  Each child would be appointed a special volunteer advocate who saw the child regularly. That person would then report back to the judge, serving as the child's voice in court. In an overburdened child welfare system, this extra set of eyes and ears could make all the difference in the life of a child.

          In the years to follow, word spread and CASA programs sprung up in communities across the country. Attorney Larry Shapiro brought the idea to Yolo County and disseminated information to the court and the various agencies involved. The first board of directors was formed, which included Vicki Murphy and Muvvie Marks, two women we refer to as our "founding mothers."

          In 1996, attorney Gary Gelfman took over the reins of the newly formed Yolo County CASA. He was instrumental in establishing protocols for volunteer orientations and trainings, and guided the implementation of CASAs' presence in courtroom proceedings. His efforts were coordinated with Juvenile Court Judge Arvid Johnson and Attorney Bill Corwin, who became executive director of CASA in August of 1996. Cindy Burger, Yolo County's first Court Appointed Special Advocate, was assigned a child in December of 1996 (and her commitment continues today as she still helps out in the CASA office regularly)! By March of 1999, more than 100 CASA advocates were representing as many children in the Yolo County courtroom.

          Advocates commit to meeting with a foster child on a regular basis for a minimum of 18 months to offer stability and consistency. Most CASAs meet with their youth once a week for a couple of hours and do an activity that allows plenty of interaction.

          As the relationship develops over time, the volunteer gains an understanding of what life is like for that foster child and the challenges they face on a regular basis. The advocate identifies areas of concern and brings them to the attention of social workers, lawyers, and judges to work out a solution. There are many touching stories of how CASA advocates have impacted foster youth, from ensuring that a brother and sister were adopted by the same family, to reporting information that led the court to remove a child from a life threatening situation.

          Today, we are working hard toward our vision of providing every foster child in Yolo County with a CASA volunteer. Through generous community support and incredible volunteers, we know we will get there.

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