Community, Opinion & Editorial

Empowering our youth: CASA of Lane County’s vital role in advocacy

Since its inception in 1987, Oregon Statute has mandated the appointment of a  Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for every case under ORS chapter 419B. These dedicated volunteers, including those from CASA of Lane County, serve as legal representatives for children in foster care, ensuring their voices are heard and their best interests are upheld in court proceedings. 

However, despite  this crucial mandate, the financial resources necessary to support the invaluable  work of CASA programs were not initially provided. 

These community volunteers play an integral role in the lives of vulnerable youth, providing consistent support and advocacy throughout their time in foster care. From forming relationships with the children they represent to monitoring their  access to essential services and educational opportunities, CASA volunteers serve  as the eyes and ears of the court, ensuring that every child receives the care and  support they deserve. 

In 2006, the Oregon Commission on Children and Families set a state funding benchmark with the goal of achieving full statewide CASA program implementation by 2011. 

However, as we find ourselves in 2024, the state allocation falls short of this goal, with Lane County’s allocation of state funding at  $289,000, which is significantly below the benchmark set nearly two decades ago. 

I am grateful for the state resources that have been allocated but emphasize that it is only a  fraction of what is needed to ensure every child has the powerful voice of best interest advocacy they need and deserve. 

Lane County has the second highest child maltreatment rate in the state, with nearly 1,000 children and youth spending time in foster care annually. 

Despite these funding challenges, CASA of Lane County remains steadfast in its  mission to support vulnerable youth in foster care. 

However, the recent shortfall in Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) funding has further exacerbated financial constraints, hindering the organization’s ability to provide essential services. The  impact to CASA programs across the state is $1.7 million. With this decrease in  funding, CASA of Lane County faces the daunting task of maintaining current service levels while also addressing the needs of children and youth on their  critical needs waitlist. 

In response to these challenges, CASA of Lane County urges community members  to take proactive measures. 

I encourage you to engage with  congressional leaders and state elected officials, advocating for the resolution of  VOCA funding shortages and supporting the crucial work of child advocacy  organizations. 

Moreover, I stress the importance of community involvement, inviting individuals to volunteer or support CASA’s mission financially. 

One such opportunity to support CASA of Lane County is through its upcoming Over the Edge event on June 15, a peer-to-peer fundraiser where participants  raise funds for CASA and earn their spot to rappel off the Hyatt Place at Oakway  Center in Eugene. This event not only raises essential funds but also raises  awareness about the vital role CASA plays in supporting vulnerable youth in our community. 

As the lifeline for numerous children in distress, CASA of Lane County and  similar organizations find themselves at a critical juncture. The funding deficit threatens to undermine their ability to fulfill their mandate of advocating for the  best interests of vulnerable children. 

Yet, with collective action and support, a  brighter future remains possible, where every child has the opportunity to thrive in  a secure and nurturing environment. 

Your support can make a difference in  the lives of vulnerable youth in our community.

More info:

Kendra Jones is the executive director for CASA of Lane County. You can reach her at [email protected]



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