Child Advocates of Silicon Valley

Child Advocates of Silicon Valley

Providing Stability and Hope for Abused and Neglected Children

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Last Update: July 10, 2014

Foster children are among the most vulnerable members of our community; they are uprooted from their homes, families and friends and, too often, slip through the cracks of an overburdened dependency system. Our volunteers ensure abused and neglected children receive the support they need to thrive.

Founded: 1986 Type: citizen sector

The Problem

Currently, there are hundreds of Santa Clara County foster children who do not have a stable adult in their life. These youth are in dire need of support from a consistent, caring adult, considering: •75% of foster students function below grade level; 83% are held back by grade three. •Fewer than 50% of foster youth graduate from high school, compared with 80% of the general population. •Fewer than 10% of foster students enroll in college.

The Solution

Our volunteers complete 30 hours of training before being sworn-in by a judge as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA). This appointment gives CASAs access to all of the child’s files and service providers in order to determine the child’s primary needs and concerns. After being matched, CASAs typically spend 2-3 hours per week with their child, acting as a mentor and role model, assisting the child in accessing resources, following school progress, and speaking up for the child’s best interests in court. CASAs work with family members, attorneys, and social workers, maintain complete records about the case, submit reports and attend court hearings. Generally, CASAs stay with a child until the child’s dependency case is dismissed.


Sergio met his CASA, Vickie, when he was in middle school and considered a “lost cause” by his social worker. But Vickie soon discovered that Sergio was extremely bright, creative and eager to forge a new path for himself. Vickie worked with Sergio and his teachers to enroll him in AVID, a program for high potential students. Sergio began to thrive. In high school Sergio earned a 3.4 GPA while taking college-track and AP classes and participating in many extracurricular activities. Vickie encouraged him to take the ACT and SAT tests and worked with him to apply for scholarships. Sergio was awarded a Gates Millennium Scholarship to attend a four-year college of his choice and is now a junior at UC Berkeley, earning all As and Bs.


Our program has a proven track record of success: • Over 70% of CASA children ages 3 to 5 are enrolled in pre-school, as compared to only 42% of all 3 to 5 year olds in the Santa Clara County dependency system. • While fewer than 50% of foster children nationwide graduate from high school, 83% of Child Advocates’ youth completed their high school requirements this past school year. • 83% of CASAs working with foster youth who were seniors in high school reported that their youth were continuing or planned to continue their education after high school. Perhaps the best example of our program’s impact comes from a former foster youth, “I owe a lot to my CASA and I am extremely grateful to have her in my life. Every foster youth should have an adult that cares about them and gives them unwavering support throughout their years in the system and beyond.”

Full Impact Potential

Our agency is known for innovative methods of achieving positive outcomes for foster youth, including building emotional intelligence skills, such as empathy. Our “8 Key Areas of Support” system categorizes CASA’s work with foster youth into key areas: Education Support; Trust & Relationship Building; Self-Esteem Building; Healthy Choices & Behaviors; Developmental Milestones; New Experiences; Cultural & Community Events; and Extracurricular Activities. Our “8 Key Areas” approach has been presented to the Western Psychological Assoc. and is to be published in the New Social Worker magazine.

Budget: More than $1 million

Financial Sources

Individuals, Foundations, Businesses, Regional government, National government, Other

Sustainability Plan

Child Advocates is currently experiencing financial health and stability. The local community has responded very positively to our five year strategic plan to provide a CASA for every foster child in Santa Clara County. We have successfully diversified our funding base, receiving support from a variety of sources, including events (32%), individuals (19%), government entities (18%), foundations (13%), corporations (11%), and other (7%).


Child Advocates is the only agency in Santa Clara County that provides CASAs to foster youth. Our role is unique in that no one else has a special appointment from the court allowing full access to records to gain a comprehensive perspective on what the child needs in order to thrive. Our ability to speak directly to the court, the judge, foster and biological parents and other involved in the case affords us the unique opportunity to effect direct, positive actions on behalf of the child and to hold others accountable for following through on commitments on behalf of the child.

Founding Story

Child Advocates was founded in 1986 by Judge Leonard Edwards and Nora Manchester, a social worker and community volunteer. It was modeled after the first CASA program that was developed in Seattle in 1977 by Judge David Soukup. Judge Soukup recognized the need for children in dependency court to be represented by an impartial advocate who could speak on behalf of the child. Judge Edwards devoted over twenty-six years to dependency law before retiring from the bench in 2006. He is the most distinguished dependency judge in the United States, having been awarded the Supreme Court’s William H. Rehnquist Award for Judicial Excellence, the only juvenile court judge ever to receive that award.

Team Explanation

Child Advocate’s 15 full-time and 2 part-time employees bring a wealth of nonprofit and management experience to the agency. Our Board is comprised of 23 members who are diverse in terms of gender, ethnicity, age, residency and expertise. Members include corporate executives, CPAs, community volunteers, former HR executives, small business owners, marketing consultants and attorneys. Nine of the members are or have been CASAs.

Team Members


Building Vibrant Communities: Activating Empathy to Create Change

Supplemental Information

On which of the following California counties does your project focus its impact? (check all that apply):

Santa Clara.

How does your idea help cultivate empathy skills to strengthen communities and equip young people to become leaders of change?

We match foster children with CASAs who provide the stability and support children need to thrive. Molly’s story illustrates how the influence of a caring adult can nurture empathy – even in the most wounded children. Molly entered the dependency system at 15 after suffering years of abuse and neglect. She was matched with a CASA who helped Molly focus on school and get involved with an agency that empowers youth to transform the foster care system through legislative change. Molly began setting up community events and networking with other foster youth – and even spoke at a convention in Sacramento. Today Molly says, “I can honestly say that helping people in my community is my one true passion.”



Volunteer CASAs to help us meet our 5-year goal of matching every foster child in Santa Clara County with a caring adult.


Assistance with recruiting and training volunteers and mentoring at risk youth.

Tell us about your partnerships

•The Dept. of Family Services to identify children who need a CASA
•The County Office of Ed. to assure youth earn a diploma and receive educational services
•Silicon Valley Children’s Fund to provide scholarships for college-bound youth
•TeenForce to provide work training and job placement services
•Family and Children Services to support Independent Living Skills for youth via workshops and events
•FIRST5 to support children, ages 0-5


Our primary challenge is in meeting our volunteer recruitment needs. Having embarked on an aggressive strategic plan to provide every foster child in Santa Clara County with a CASA by 2018, we must increase the number of volunteers by approximately 60% (about 820 volunteers) by the year 2018. The travel to our Milpitas office for the mandatory 6-9 pm trainings twice a week for 5 weeks is currently an obstacle in our recruitment efforts. One way in which we are addressing this is by implementing a technology supported distributed training program that will allow us to train CASAs remotely.

Does your project use any of the following approaches to cultivate community members as empathetic and collaborative leaders?

encouraging philanthropy, developing emotional competency, building leadership skills, identifying shared values and differences, instilling courage, enabling action.

Target Age Group(s)

0-1.5, 1.5-3, 3-5, 6-12, 13-17, 18-35.

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