Cathy Cosgrove, of Lake Havasu City, was looking for a way to become involved with the community six years ago. The CASA program seemed like a fun, rewarding place to start, Cosgrove remembers.
Now 61 years old, Cosgrove and her husband Tom began working with Arizona’s foster care system as Court-Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) volunteers. The CASA program began in 1985, and celebrated its 30th anniversary this December.
CASA volunteers like the Cosgroves spend time with foster children, representing stable figures in often chaotic points in foster children’s lives. They observe foster children, and offer unbiased testimony during court proceedings involving fostering or custody.
The CASA program is operated through the Arizona Supreme Court, which recruits and trains everyday volunteers to become advocates – not necessarily mentors – to foster children. The program, as an entity, claims 30 percent of the state’s uncollected lottery winnings to maintain its operations.
According to the CASA organization, children with a CASA volunteer assigned to them are more likely to receive social services and resources, and twice as likely to find a safe, permanent home. They are also half as likely to re-enter the foster care system.
The Cosgroves are among 37 CASA advocates in Mohave County, who try to serve nearly 600 children in out-of-home care.
“We get to know the kids, we go out to their court cases, and we make a recommendation,” Cathy Cosgrove said. “Attorneys can change, judges can change, but kids will always keep the same CASA.”
Cosgrove says that throughout the past six years, she has advocated for about 36 children.
“We enjoy being with the kids and spending time with them,” she said. “We’re sorry that they suffered through the trauma they’ve been going through. It’s a bittersweet experience. We still receive Christmas cards from some of the ones we’ve helped. We stay in touch, we get phone calls and we get updates.”
Children who receive CASA services can range from infants to 18 years old, and in Cosgrove’s experience, some cases have been more difficult than others.
“I’ve found that all of them, all the kids we’ve had, want to be loved and they want to be like other kids,” Cosgrove said.
“My mother died when I was 11,” she added. “I didn’t end up in foster care but I see a lot of myself in the kids that are around that age. They just need someone to stand on their side and work through it with them.”
Outreach specialist Allison Hurtado says that the foster care and court systems are often overburdened, and CASA is a way to ensure that Arizona foster children get the help that they need.
“We have about 1,000 CASAs in Arizona, and about 2,000 kids who use CASA services,” Hurtado said. “The ideal goal is to ensure that one day, every child will have an individual CASA sponsor.”
The organization has served more than 20,000 children in its 30-year history.
“CASA has changed lives,” Hurtado said. “At a point where the parents, the courts and attorneys are coming and going, CASA is there to get kids what they need.”
CASA members are trained to speak up for the rights of abused and neglected children in the state’s courtrooms. Volunteers are not expected to mentor children or to provide placement or a home for a child, but are required to submit recommendations directly to judges during cases involving foster children.
All CASA advocates complete 30 hours of training before service. They often meet with teachers, counselors, physicians and guardians to take an assessment of children’s lives before making a recommendation, and are required to devote 15-20 hours per month to each case.