Law Review Article Calls CASA an ‘Exercise of White Supremacy’

Idaho, 1902: An “officer” of the Episcopal Diocese of Idaho writes about how fortunate Native American children are when they are taken from their homes and forced into white-run orphanages.  “What a contrast” those wonderful orphanages are, she writes, to the children’s own homes:

The smoking fire in the centre of the tepee, and on it the pot of soup stirred by the not over-clean squaw … and then to think of the neat, comfortable home at the mission, with the uplifting of its daily prayer …

Washington State, 2016: A Court-Appointed Special Advocate (CASA), a volunteer named by a juvenile court to investigate a black family, explains why the court should sever the bond between a black father and his children forever:

Formerly homeless, the father had bought an RV for the family to live in. The CASA deemed that  an unstable environment and repeatedly compared the RV to the foster home, which had “lots of toys.”

Both of these stories are told in However Kindly Intentioned: Structural Racism and Volunteer CASA Programs, an article in the City University of New York Law Review by Amy Mulzer, a staff attorney and clinical instructor at Brooklyn Law School, and Tara Urs, an attorney for the King County Department of Public Defense in Washington.

CASA volunteers are 81 percent white and 82 percent female, according to a 2014 national survey. Sixty-nine percent have a college degree. But they are sent out to assist families that are overwhelmingly poor and disproportionately nonwhite. Then they tell judges what is supposedly in the children’s “best interests.”

However Kindly Intentioned argues that the problem of racial bias in CASA goes far deeper than issues I’ve written about before: a CASA program seeing no problem when a performer at a fundraiser dresses in blackface or a CASA program falling apart as soon as it has to confront issues of race.

CASA is a “Gift” Poor Children Could Do Without

Rather, these authors argue, “CASAs essentially give voice to white supremacy.” The program’s very existence, they argue, is a racist act. Indeed, they say, it is the only context in which the program’s existence makes sense:

  • According to a CASA training manual, CASAs are said to be present in order to bring their “community perspective, [and] common sense approach.” But, the authors write, “CASAs are from an entirely different community than the children for whom they are supposed to speak and the parents whose voices they replace.”
  • A prominent former judge calls CASAs “the gift of an important person in a child’s life.” But, the authors write, this assumes that until the white, middle-class savior steps in, the child “has no important people in her life already, no aunts or uncles, teachers, neighbors, friends, friends’ parents, pastors, grandparents, or others who have the child’s interests at heart.”
  • As I have noted before, CASAs actually spend very little time on a case. They average only 4.3 hours per month if the child is white and notably less, 2.67 hours per month, if the child is black.
  • CASA is surprisingly expensive – the authors write that it costs $304 million per year, and more than half the money comes from taxpayers.
  • The authors note that CASAs are not required to have expertise in law, social work, psychology or child development. Training is minimal. As another lawyer puts it: “In Washington State it takes 300 hours of training to massage a horse …yet it takes less than 24 hours of training for a volunteer to walk in off the street and recommend that a child never see his or her parent again.”

So courts get recommendations like the one in the RV case. Or a case in which the CASA supported termination of parental rights in part because the parents put too much Desitin on their child’s diaper rash. Or a case in which the CASA expressed concern that a black mother was not sufficiently bonded to her daughter because she allowed the child to unbuckle herself from her car seat and get out of the car on her own, rather than doing these things for her.

And CASA doesn’t work – unless your goal is to prolong foster care and increase the odds children will be placed with strangers instead of relatives. Those were the program’s accomplishments according to the most comprehensive study ever done of CASA, a study commissioned by the National CASA Association itself. The study found that CASA did nothing to improve child safety.

Despite all this, CASAs are revered figures in court. Judges typically defer to recommendations made by these minimally-trained amateurs. The explanation for such deference, the authors say, is rooted in deep-seated biases about race, class and gender.

“Common Sense” = Middle Class Sensibility

The history of American child welfare is a history of the white middle and upper classes imposing their will on poor people who were hated and feared: Native Americans warehoused in orphanages in order to “kill the Indian, save the man,” impoverished immigrants, victimized by Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, (known in poor neighborhoods simply as “the Cruelty”) and then families of color.

Through it all, the authors write, “white womanhood has been long associated with purity, refinement and correctness … in contrast to depictions of Black and Native women as ‘degraded, immoral, and sexually promiscuous others.’”

So today, the authors argue, a CASA is viewed as an “expert” precisely because “as a white, middle class woman, she benefits from the assumption that such expertise is one of her natural attributes.” “Common sense” equals white, middle-class sensibility. The fact that they are volunteers and have good intentions further insulates CASAs from scrutiny.

The authors conclude:

[T]he lessons of the CASA experiment offer one clear message: the integrity of the legal system is compromised when the law invites voices of privilege to dominate. Given our nation’s long struggle with racial discrimination, it is particularly troubling to allow the voices of white people to speak loudest in a system disproportionately focused on families of color. …

 A legal system that allows middle-class white women to speak for the children of poor families of color is not hiding its bias if you only take a moment to look behind the “therapeutic” veneer. This exercise of white supremacy is out in the open, obvious, direct … Allowing CASAs to stand in the place of child welfare-involved parents and speak for child-welfare-involved children is to take the structural racism underlying the child welfare system and give it a seat at the table. 

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Richard Wexler
About Richard Wexler 51 Articles
Richard Wexler is Executive Director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, His interest in child welfare grew out of 19 years of work as a reporter for newspapers, public radio and public television. During that time, he won more than two dozen awards, many of them for stories about child abuse and foster care. He is the author of Wounded Innocents: The Real Victims of the War Against Child Abuse (Prometheus Books: 1990, 1995).


  1. Richard,
    I’ve been an attorney practicing in these specialty court cases for many years, and have represented both parents and CASAs (aka Guardian Ad Litem or GALs). Unlike you and even the vast majority of the legal community (I’m going to guess including the clinical instructor who likely authored the mis-informed law review article that you’re citing), I have spent numerous hours actually experiencing these cases – from all sides. What’s more, I actually took the time to read the “most extensive study ever done on CASA,” to which you cite. Like the law review article, I find this “journalism” inaccurate at best, and irresponsible at worst.

    There are a lot of conclusions that you draw that are vulnerable to attack here, but the most terribly ironic one to my eye is that, reading the data itself, a GAL (CASA) being assigned to a case does not equal poorer outcomes for kids. That is, unless you’re actually making the argument that 100% of all cases must end in reunification, regardless of extent and nature of the abuse or neglect, and regardless of whether or not parents ended up getting their acts together or not. Read on to better understand why:

    First, reading your article, I think you must not understand the realities of most of these cases, and that (as your study confirms, albeit not as clearly as they should have) — because there are not enough CASAs to go around–cases assigned a CASA are inevitably the toughest. Parents are frequently in jail, will not stay sober, or will not get treatment for the thing that caused the shelter care hearing and court case to begin with. The complexity and potential risk inherent in these cases requires much more time and effort on the part of parents, and the State (and the GAL), leading to longer court cases and more out-of-home (“third-party”) placements. Some types of abuse (sexual being one of them) is often not remediable as a practical matter, or the custodial parent won’t leave a spouse or significant other who is doing the abusing, thus making a home placement too risky. So, again, all of these complex situations take time as the State, and GAL, and Judge, wait around to see if the parent can get his or her act together, leading to fewer reunifications – and rightly so, I hope we can all agree.

    Second, I think you’re missing that the GAL is generally the ONLY person in the room– often, but not always, except for the judge– that will ensure the family gets the services (counseling, financial, medical, and others — this is all in your study) that it needs, which is often critical if that family is NOT going back into the system again, often with progressively worse results. As your study specifically notes, CASA cases get statistically significant more services than non-CASA cases. As a practical matter, I can assure you this is actually the case in practice because, unfortunately, too often both the State (the “Plaintiff” in these cases) and the parent(s) (the “Defendant” in these cases) try to rush through the process to hurry and reunify a family, even while nothing has been done to ensure whatever happened to get the family into the system doesn’t happen again the moment the family is back out of it… and, again, have potentially progressively worse results.

    Third, so looking at the data, you can rightly say that there may be a CORRELATION to longer court cases and third-party placements, but you can’t rightly say there is CAUSATION without much, much more. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if data exists to show a strong argument that–despite being harder cases–there is such a HIGH rate of reunification within the 22 month federal timeframe, and that these families are statistically less likely to come back into the system.

    As for your unfortunate evocation of White Supremacy in the title of your post, I don’t know where to start except to say that maybe you should consider that this is not a racial problem inherent in CASA cases, as much as it is a poverty issue that disproportionally strikes at minority children. Alternately stated, if there are more white people with dozens of hours to commit to volunteering with CASA and more minority children in the system (generally put there by their parents less directly because of race than socio economic class, that correlates and may even be caused by race) perhaps your talents would be better served by getting to a root cause rather than taking aim at straw man whose main allure is that it can be fodder for “shock and awe” blog titles.

    • Agree, Tami. In short to add to my experience to this thread. I’m a young white female CASA. I did not grow up in the privileged middle class, my family was dirt poor and I was severely abused by both my mother and father. I am the relatable CASA as I have also had experience growing up as a child in the child welfare system, and living with all the symptoms that come from being abused. Since an early age, I have had a strong desire to help put a stop to child abuse, ending the cycle and helping other victims heal and recover. Yet now I am being labeled as a privileged white supremacist for overcoming great odds? It’s incredibly depressing the world we live in today. As for my Foster Youth, he refuses to go back to his aunts home. I check in with him often and ask if he would like to speak with his only kin/aunt and he begs me to please not reach out to her, that he is happier living in the group home and has no desire to speak to his aunt again. That being said, he has a deep love for his mom, but his mom is in jail for the next 15 years at least for a felony. The child literally has no one, and in the state we live in he is deprived of a foster home because there are none available and most won’t take troubled teens. So what do you do? Ignore the situation? Let his overworked social worker that only sees him 1 hour a month make the calls? Being a CASA is not for the faint of heart. In my training, the number one thing we were taught was family reunification. I will admit I had trouble with this training due to my own past experience of rather living in a group home than with my family. Still, I understand that family reunification is often the most healthy outcome and so we take the level of training we receive seriously. But when a child refuses family reunification, what about the child rights? I believe children’s rights just like women’s rights have a long way to go. Since being a volunteer I have learned so much about forgiveness, unconditional love as well seeing a reflection of myself when I was my foster youths age. I want nothing more than my foster youth to live in a stable, loving environment and right now he is doing well and this has been healing for us both. Community and Love is all we humans really need. Hopefully my foster youth can one day reunite with his family too, when he is ready. It took me 25 years to find forgiveness for my father. I never thought in my lifetime I could get to this point, but the unimaginable happened through being a CASA.

  2. Very true. Friendly court, ha, friendly towards whom and what? I have witnessed and experienced first hand corruption and massive and mass racism in Nashs friendly court! Baca is found guilty ready for prison God willing the racist Nash is next. Horrific as it was i am glad I saw for myself because I am blessed with people who give weight to my opinion and i have so many notes on so many brown families.

  3. I have to agree the CASA in Los Angeles headed by mike nash is RACIST!! Thanks for the great article. The chronicle of social change is also racists, they don’t publish my comments. Drain the swamp! DEFUND them!

  4. Thank-you for your great on the spot article about CASA’s. I am in Los Angeles where Michael Nash has presided over the corrupt children’s court for years, which includes my American Indian children. I am also a enrolled tribal member since birth who was denied and had children stolen from me by the corrupt DCF and Edelman’s children’s court, under this person of interest nash. My children have over 45% quantum american indian blood but that’s for another story about this nations genocidal policies.

    I have an autistic child that was the gold mine for DCFs and being naive to the destructive children’s court I asked for a CASA for my child during the proceedings. My court appointed lawyer told me, “No, you don’t want a CASA, you’ll NEVER get your kid back!”, so the problem is known throughout the court system in Los Angeles. As an advocate and whistleblower for DCF and children’s court corruption (so much all the time), I am very busy and hear about the absolute corruption within the CASA program in Los Angeles. These CASA’s don’t see the children they represent, don’t know their names, can’t identify them in court, yet Edelman judges value them highly. They value them highly because they are just an extension of county counsel agenda and go along with the child trafficking ring in Los Angeles.

    I even had a Los Angeles CASA take me aside and tell me what a bunch of racist they are. A few years ago, Los Angeles had a referee Shereen Sobel, who was the “touted American Indian judge of Los Angeles. Oh how the courts were so proud of her, even CASA put on a big brunch for this white jewish lady who was the so called American Indian judge. After witnessing that, all the white ladies who can’t spell, having a brunch for a white jewish judge calling her an american indian judge, I knew they were a bunch of racists. Especially after what they did to my family.

    Michael nash, the czar of Los Angeles, how many more foster children have to be raped for you to do something? It’s a joke of a system, preying on the poor minorities and now little snow white has a job with CASA. I hope Trump drains the swamp and defunds this disgusting program. They are not good or even nice people who contribute to this…

  5. I am generally a big fan of the writings and opinions of Mr. Wexler. However, based on my experience in child welfare as a judge and more since 1990, I have to disagree with the perspective expressed in his latest article on CASA mostly articulated through the However Kindly Intentioned article.
    I am a strong advocate for CASA programs. Most, if not all, of our child welfare systems suffer from too many cases. Social workers, lawyers, judges and other professionals who work in the child welfare system are all stretched thin because of their caseloads. I believe that contributes to many cracks in the system. CASA volunteers help fill those so-called cracks by adding an extra set of eyes, ears, hands and brains in many, many cases. Thousands of children or more have benefited from the involvement of CASAs.
    Mr. Wexler has often criticized those who attack family preservation with anecdotal evidence, and I agree with him. It seems that this article is guilty of the same. For every negative anecdote about CASA, I’m sure I and other judges throughout the nation can cite dozens or more positive ones which have helped them make better decisions on behalf of children before them. I have never worked in a dependency court without a CASA program and have always thought our system would be much worse off without one.
    Judge Michael Nash(ret)

    • When anecdotes collide, it’s time to look at the data. As I noted in the column: CASA doesn’t work – unless your goal is to prolong foster care and increase the odds children will be placed with strangers instead of relatives. Those were the program’s accomplishments according to the most comprehensive study ever done of CASA, a study commissioned by the National CASA Association itself. The study found that CASA did nothing to improve child safety. There’s a link to the full study here:

    • Ya, I guess you can’t bully him can ya. Glad he doesn’t have children near you or your little army of racists. There are way more victims than children’s court judges in this nation and you are in big trouble.

  6. As a CASA volunteer, I take issue with your position. You seem to take a handful of examples to prove your point while failing to present any of the countless positive ones into account. I am a white male working with an African American male in foster care. While the CASA program may not be perfect, the system is even more flawed. I have been on his case over two years now. In that time, he has had four different residences and at least five different social workers. I have been one of the few consistent presences in the short time I have worked with him. I am certainly not the only “important person in his life” but I do feel that I am one of the few. He knows that I am spending time with him as an un-paid volunteer and that I (like most CASA’s) have only one case, unlike the other members of his team. I am just one example, but from what I have seen, I am far more the norm than your examples.
    The CASA has one voice among many in the courtroom. Generally speaking a youth will have a social worker and a lawyer/guardian ad litem. There will be a representative of the government and then the parent(s) and their legal representation. The parent does not lose their voice in the matter nor does the social worker or anyone else on the case. Any instance where a judge is rubber stamping a CASA’s opinion without weighing the all of the facts of the case should be more an indictment of that particular judge than the CASA program as a whole.
    I would ask you what your alternative is. Would you simply eliminate the CASA program on the whole and let the revolving door of underpaid and overworked social workers advocate for the child’s best interest? If it is a matter of demographics, do you have a suggestion for how to recruit more racially similar volunteers? I know my local program tries very hard to do that. What is your solution to the whole problem? The system has many problems as I am sure you are aware and I think the CASA program adds significant value for a really nominal cost.

    • The most comprehensive study ever done of CASA (see the link in the column) found that it actually does harm by prolonging foster care and reducing the chances that children will be placed with relatives instead of strangers. Therefore a system without CASAs in the courtroom, will be a less bad system than a system with CASAs in the courtroom.

      As I’ve written before: In its current form, CASA is inherently unfixable. CASAs should be restricted to the one area where they really can be useful: as mentors for foster children. Such a program would provide real help for children, instead of harming them by prolonging foster care and undermining families.

      The authors of the Law Review article correctly note that “This paper need not define what child representation should look like in order to argue what it should not.” Nevertheless, they offer a number of suggestions, and readers genuinely interested in alternatives should consider them.

      As for other ways to reform the system, you’ll find them here: and here:

      Richard Wexler
      Executive Director
      National Coalition for Child Protection Reform

    • Mr Wexler:

      I have read many of your articles and postings through the years. I have agreed with most of what you have written. I strongly disagree with what you have written here. You have relied upon a few anecdotes and one study. You claim it is the most representative study. I disagree with that conclusion. I do not believe that you have understood the value of CASA – and highlighting a law review article that uses “white supremacy” in its title is regrettable.

      I was a superior court judge for 26 years and was assigned to juvenile court 23 of those years. I started our local CASA program and encouraged others to start those programs in my state, several other states, and two foreign countries. I did that because I believe that CASA volunteers add value to the juvenile court process and the best interests of children.

      1. CASA volunteers bring valuable information to the judge, often information that no one else is aware of. Most judges would like to have a CASA volunteer for every child in the system.

      2. CASA volunteers often remain as a support person for the child long after the case has been dismissed. This is particularly important because youth who “age out” of our child welfare system fare poorly as adults. The CASA volunteer may be the only person the young person can turn to since the court case is closed.

      3. CASA volunteers are often the most consistent person in the child’s life as the professionals carry caseloads, the CASA usually has only one child.

      4. Children value CASA volunteers more than any other person in the court system. Our study at the California Judicial Council came to two conclusions about the child’s perspective regarding CASAs. First, the children valued their CASA more than any other person in the system (social worker, attorney, judge, etc). They did so because they knew that the CASA volunteer was not being paid. Second, they valued their CASA more than anyone else because they knew they were the only child the CASA represented. I can send you this study if you wish.

      5. You complain that there is disproportionality – more white volunteers than volunteers of color. That is also true of judges, social workers, and attorneys.

      6. CASAs do not slow the case down. Our local data shows that CASA volunteers put greater pressure on the court system to achieve timely permanency. than anyone else. I know that a CASA in court is a powerful voice for timely permanency as I experienced this time and time again as a sitting judge.

      7. The fact is that our child welfare system is over-burdened. Caseloads are too high, professionals struggle to keep up with their work demands. Ultimately, the success of the child welfare system must come from others. First the biological family, then relatives, then foster families, but also from the community. CASA is the most effective program connecting the community and the courts.
      8. Local anecdotes. (a) one of our judges was an advocate for 2 girls whose mother deserted them. She not only stays in contact with them, but flew to the East Coast to be present when one gave birth to her first child.
      (b) at a local conference, 4 former foster youth comprised a panel. They were asked questions about their experience as a foster youth. They all said their CASA was the most important person in their experience. Two said that the CASA “saved my life,” telling stories about needing emergency help and finding only the CASA volunteer was available to help. (c) A friend was a CASA 10 years ago – he still works with the youth, helping him through higher education and starting a business. (d) One judge’s spouse became a CASA volunteer. After 2 years the family adopted the child.

      9. The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges has supported CASA for over 35 years. The NCJFCJ works with judges from every state.
      CASA is perceived by the NCJFCJ as a best practice. This conclusion is based on the experiences of hundreds of judges.

      10. CASA volunteers are mentors in a great American tradition of adults helping children. The data are clear that mentoring benefits children.

      11. I have many complaints about our child welfare system. I believe we remove too many children, do not support families or provide them with high quality services to prevent removal, do not provide meaningful and useful reunification services, do not search out and support relative placements, rely far too much on congregate care (group homes), overly use psychotropic medications to control children placed out of home, take too long to reach permanency, and much more (see my webpage – But abolishing CASA is simply wrong-headed. And supporting the law review article with its inflammatory language is harmful as it may simply discourage volunteers to participate in a valuable program.

    • In the column I write that:

      “A prominent former judge calls CASAs ‘the gift of an important person in a child’s life.’ But, the authors [of the law review article write] this assumes that until the white, middle-class savior steps in, the child “has no important people in her life already, no aunts or uncles, teachers, neighbors, friends, friends’ parents, pastors, grandparents, or others who have the child’s interests at heart.”

      The former judge in question is, of course, you, Judge Edwards.

      You dismiss the most comprehensive study ever done of CASA, a study commissioned by the National CASA Association itself, without offering any contrary evidence – only anecdotes. For a more objective take on that study, readers should check out the Youth Today story published when the study was released: and Karen Pittman’s commentary at that time:

      You point out, correctly, that there are racial disparities in every aspect of child welfare. But that is all the more reason to avoid making things even worse by adding a bunch of minimally trained white middle-class amateurs to the mix.

      You state, INcorrectly that the law review article uses “white supremacy” in its title. It does not. *I* use it in the title of my column. The law review uses the term in the text. As my column states, the title of the law review article is “However Kindly Intentioned: Structural Racism and Volunteer CASA Programs.” (I learned from the article that the “However kindly intentioned” part comes from the Autobiography of Malcolm X, where he discusses his own experiences in foster care.)

      But what if it had used the term “white supremacy”? What would be wrong with that? How in the world do we have an honest discussion of race without using that term? Few things better illustrate the depth of the racial bias problem in child welfare than a white judge dismissing an entire law review article on the topic because it dares to use the term “white supremacy.”

      As for the benefits of CASAs for individual children, all of the benefits you cite could be achieved by turning CASA into a mentor program, while no longer allowing CASA to be one more thumb tilting the scales of justice against families.

      I hope you will use your considerable influence with the National CASA Association to get them to investigate what’s happening in Snohomish County, discussed here:

      Richard Wexler
      National Coalition for Child Protection Reform

    • Dear Judge Edwards,

      Thank you so much for sharing your insight.

      I hope you will take a few minutes to read the entire law review article. We do not rely on anecdotes; the article relies on the existing research on CASA programs, history, and caselaw. Ultimately, we are unable to find support for the proposition that CASA programs are effective at achieving their stated goals. Worse, there is evidence that CASA programs actually undermine the goals of the system because they increase the rate of termination and pay less attention to Black children.

      Therefore, the biggest question I hope to raise is: without reliable evidence that CASA programs are effective, why do we have them? Why do judges value them so highly? Indeed, why do we want to believe that they are doing good work?

      Asking that question forces us to confront our shared history of racial discrimination. We argue that one reason the system accepts the notion that a group of white women volunteers will know what is best for other people’s children is the particular aspect of white supremacy that is woven into the history of child protection in this country.

      Although you may find some of the terminology inflammatory, there is hope for common ground. I tend to agree with you that if CASAs were mentors, without party status, and without the ability to opine on the “best interests” of a child, many of our concerns would be mitigated.

      I look forward to continuing this dialogue. I just photocopied a section of your book “Reasonable Efforts” for a judge in my jurisdiction. I value your opinion and hope we can share in a respectful exchange of views.

      Best regards,

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