Abstract: The Role of Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs) in the Lives of Transition-Age Youth with Foster Care Experience (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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The Role of Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs) in the Lives of Transition-Age Youth with Foster Care Experience

Thursday, January 21, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Colleen Katz, PhD, Assistant Professor, Hunter College, New York, NY
Jennifer Geiger, PhD, MSW, Assistant Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL
Background and Purpose:

Challenges faced by youth transitioning from foster care have been well documented, showing that they often lack the skills and resources necessary to meet needs that arise in the areas of education, housing, and employment. Support from caring adults, such as mentors and friends, has been shown to ease the transition and improve later outcomes (e.g., Thompson et al., 2016). Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs), trained volunteers who work with one to two youth at a time, may be able to offer flexible support that is different from other caring adults, however there is little research on the services provided by CASA programs and their impact on youth transitioning to adulthood. This study aims to better understand the role CASAs play in the lives of youth who have recently transitioned out of the foster care system.


This study involved qualitative analysis of interviews conducted as part of a larger mixed-methods study on post-secondary educational engagement and persistence for foster youth in a large urban city. The sample included youth ages 18 to 22 who had a Court-Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) prior to or at the time of the interview/s. Youth were interviewed one to three times during their first year as emancipated adults and asked about the social support they were receiving generally and the role that their CASA played in their life. Interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed. Thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006) was conducted to identify and describe emergent themes in the data on the services provided by their CASAs. Researchers generated initial codes, identified and defined key themes from the data, and extracted exemplary quotes.


Fifteen youth participated in the study. Twelve identified as female, with the majority (ten) identifying as African American. Findings revealed four themes relating to the role of CASA: (1) advocacy, (2) promoting independence, (3) personalized service provision, and (4) consistent support. In the first theme, advocacy, participants talked about how strongly their CASA advocated for their needs, primarily those related to housing and education. When promoting independence, CASAs encouraged youth to be more independent with a “gentle push” towards goals, providing motivation to persist. Many participants talked about personalized service provision and how their CASA promoted “normalcy” regarding things all young people would be interested in (e.g., extracurricular activities). Finally, CASAs were in tune with youth’s daily lives; they provided consistent support with regular reminders and check-ins, and were there for them “no matter what.”

Conclusions and Implications:

These findings shed light on the importance of CASAs in the lives of youth transitioning from foster care to independent living. CASAs may be able to provide support that is individualized, long-term, and relationship-focused at a time when many youth may find themselves in need. Findings have implications for policies associated with assigning and funding CASAs as well as for the training of CASAs across the country, as training curricula may benefit from content specific to foster care emancipation and preparation for independent living.