"You Really Are Playing with People's Lives": Understanding Voice and Advocacy in the Court Appointed Special Advocate Program



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In 1977, a Seattle judge, exasperated at having to make life-altering decisions for children with little information, founded the Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program. In 2010, 75,000 people in 49 states volunteered their time to advocate for a child or sibling set in foster care. This project is aimed at understanding the issues of voice and advocacy imbedded within the organization Advocates For Kids and within the foster care system at large through critical ethnography. Further, this dissertation aspires to illuminate the complex ethics at play in the foster care system. This dissertation seeks to reveal the complicated ways in which the law is enacted by individuals such as foster parents, judges, and lawyers.

Specifically, the dissertation provides an in-depth examination of the role of the Court Appointed Special Advocate. CASAs are volunteers trained by the nonprofit organization, Advocates For Kids, who advocate on behalf of children in foster care. I collected data via interviews, observation, document examination, and reflexivity to present a crystallized account of the issues of voice and advocacy in the work of Advocates For Kids. Based on the data, I expound three categories of voice at play in the work of VFC: Imagined Voice, Monitored Voice, and Stifled Voice. I also argue that volunteers intentionally perform privilege in order to ethically advocate for the children with whom they work. The dissertation concludes with a performative script based on the project designed to represent the complexity of the foster care system.