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Juvenile Justice Pilot with CASA of Santa Cruz County

CASA of Santa Cruz County has been selected as one of four CASA programs in the State of California to participate in a Pilot Project to serve youth in the Juvenile Justice system, a.k.a. youth on probation.

Most youth enter into the Juvenile Justice system due to minor infractions such as petty theft, a fight at school or in the community, possession or use of drugs. They can feel alone and are traumatized by the seriousness of the situation in which they have landed. Without proper attention and advocacy, they are in danger of getting involved with more serious crimes in their adult years.

In Santa Cruz County, these youth range in age up to 21 years old with the youngest being 12 and an average age between 14-15. Most are male (80%) and many are youth of color (70%). Many of these youth have experienced the same types of trauma and abuse and have similar backgrounds to the youth we have been serving in the Dependency system since CASA of Santa Cruz began in 1992. Their parents or other adults in their lives often struggle to help them navigate the Court system. Education is a serious challenge for them mostly because many of the youth on probation are not welcomed back at school and need to change schools frequently without an advocate to effectively speak on their behalf.

California CASA is working with a nationally recognized team of expert researchers from the University of Michigan to assist in the design, implementation, and evaluation of this project.  Each participating county will select 20 youth in Juvenile Justice who will be assigned a CASA volunteer (Advocate) and 20 youth who will be the control group. We will identify and keep track of specific outcomes for each youth during the course of probation: (1) school attendance; (2) timely completion of probation; and (3) self-efficacy, comparing the youth with those without Advocates. We will test the hypothesis that youth with a Court Appointed Special Advocate fare better.

There is a curriculum for training the Advocate Supervisors and Advocates. The curriculum will provide an understanding of relevant legal issues, Court procedures, and appropriate CASA interventions. It will emphasize the importance of developing and maintaining a solid working relationship with the Judge, the child’s lawyer, the Probation Department, and the youth’s support system, including his/her family. The curriculum will also include information about the types of childhood trauma that most of these youth have suffered and the ways that the trauma has contributed to their delinquency.

While it is clear that CASA programs are effective from countless personal success stories, this is the first time that CASA’s exceptional advocacy work with youth will be studied and will have the opportunity to generate data proving the effectiveness of the CASA model. Further, this as an exciting opportunity to be on the ground floor of very important work demonstrating best practice for the rest of the state of California’s CASA programs.

If you would like to learn more about this pilot program, please contact Program Director, Jimmy Cook.