July | August 2018

Stakeholder Corner: Childhood Experience With CASA Leads to Child Advocacy Career
Allison Gilbreath, policy analyst for Foster Care and Juvenile Justice at Voices for Virginia’s Children (VVC). Allison Gilbreath, policy analyst for foster care and juvenile justice at Voices for Virginia’s Children (VVC).
Photo courtesy of VVC.

By Allison Gilbreath, policy analyst for foster care and juvenile justice at Voices for Virginia’s Children

Growing up in Chesapeake, VA, I first encountered court appointed special advocates (CASAs) for children at the age of 11. My mother suffered from bipolar disorder and was self-medicating. After several suicide attempts, the Department of Social Services was called to the house.

There was no indication that anything was amiss since I was a well-behaved, well-dressed, straight-A student. I stuck to the story that everything was fine but, once my CASA stepped in, she established trust with me over several meetings and I opened up to her. The truth was there was a lot of chaos going on in my house and we really needed help.

I was adamant about not going into foster care. My advocate didn’t make me any promises but she did tell me that she would get help for my mother. That is exactly what happened. My mother was placed in a psychiatric hospital, and I was able to stay with a friend and her family who lived in my neighborhood.

There was something about being able to walk by my house every day that gave me comfort. I remember thinking, “This situation is happening right now, but I’ll be home soon.”


I know that my situation was unique and I don’t take it for granted. I fared better than many children who go into foster care because I was allowed to stay in my neighborhood. This enabled me to stay at my school and continue to participate in school activities. I was able to maintain some normalcy because I was in familiar surroundings.


During this time, so many decisions were made for my life, and I didn’t have a voice, but I felt like I was heard when a CASA became involved. As a result of my experience, I knew I wanted to be a voice for children. I didn’t know exactly how that would manifest in my career but over time I decided on public policy.


Currently, I work on a policy team that focuses on foster care statewide in Virginia. We work with state legislators to advocate for funding and programming to benefit children in foster care. One of my pet projects is a kinship care policy agenda that advocates for capable relatives to take in children before placing them in the foster care system. Family ties and ties to the community are important factors in the success of a child who is removed from the home.


Being a special advocate for children can be a trying job because you can’t follow up on these cases. As a CASA, you step in, handle a crisis, and move on to the next case. On behalf of the kids who don’t get a chance to tell you themselves, I just want to say thank you. You are making a difference.



The National Court Appointed Special Advocate Association (National CASA) supports and promotes court-appointed volunteer advocacy for the more than 600,000 neglected and abused children who find themselves in the child welfare system each year in the United States. National CASA also helps coordinate nationwide campaigns to recruit volunteers and raise awareness about child abuse and neglect.

Since 1985, OJJDP has helped National CASA expand and rigorously train its volunteer corps. In fiscal year 2015, OJJDP awarded National CASA a $5.2 million grant to provide training, technical assistance, and membership accreditation to 949 CASA and/or guardian ad litem (GAL) programs in 49 states and the District of Columbia. Technical assistance now totals more than 22,000 instances per year, in addition to a comprehensive national training program that includes CASA and/or GAL advocate preservice training and issue-focused trainings on ethnic and racial identity, disproportionality, and working with older youth as they transition out of the foster care system to independent living.


Allison Gilbreath is a policy analyst for foster care and juvenile justice at Voices for Virginia’s Children in Richmond, VA. She is dedicated to being an advocate for children and is working to develop policies that improve the lives of children in the foster care system.