Child Advocates of Silicon Valley

What if every abused and neglected child had a caring, supportive adult in their life who offered them stability and hope for the future?

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Founding Story: Share a story about a key experience or spark that helps the network understand why this project got started or a story about how you became inspired about the potential for this project to succeed.

Child Advocates was founded 30 years ago to provide Santa Clara County foster children with Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs). CASAs ensure children’s needs are met and their voices heard as they navigate the often chaotic juvenile dependency system. Child Advocates’ Executive Director has been a CASA for 16 years and has advocated for 15 children. She still keeps in touch with her first CASA youth, who is now a 27-year-old Master’s degree student who recently became a CASA herself.

Which categories describe you? (the answer will not be public)

  • White (for example: German, Irish, English, Italian, Polish, French, Caucasian)


Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [State]

  • California

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]


Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [State]

  • California

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [City]

Santa Clara County

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

The emotional trauma of being removed from home and family often results in dismal outcomes for California’s foster youth, including high drop-out rates and low graduation rates (only 58% of foster youth earn a diploma), increased chances of crossing over to the juvenile justice system (60% of juvenile justice youth have histories in the dependency system) and mental health issues (25% of foster youth are prescribed psychotropic medications).

The American Medical Association states, “A more vulnerable group does not exist than children removed from the custody of their parents and placed in foster care.” Child Advocates strives to ensure our most vulnerable children grow up to have a positive view of the future and the opportunity to become a productive, healthy adult. We believe the most effective way to achieve this is to provide foster children with a caring adult who will remain their friend, advocate and mentor throughout their time in the dependency system: a CASA.  Today, the agency is on track to accomplish its 5-year strategic goal to provide a CASA to every foster child in Santa Clara County by year-end 2018.

Is your model focused on any of the following traditionally underserved communities?

  • Other

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Child and Family Services
  • Education
  • Mental Health

Year Founded


Project Stage

  • Scaling (the solution has passed the previous stages, and the next step will be growing its impact on a regional or global scale)

Example: Walk the network through a specific example of what happens when a person or group engages with your solution.

We know CASAs can help change a foster child’s life. Yet, it is sometimes difficult for our CASA volunteers to see the depth of their positive impact at the time that a child’s case closes. This was the case for longtime CASA volunteer Harvey. After losing touch for several years, Harvey and his former CASA youth, Daniel, reconnected online. “I found out he’d named his son after me,” Harvey says smiling. “I wanted to give my son his name because Harvey was a father figure to me,” says Daniel. Daniel has since become a CASA volunteer and he and his wife are exploring the possibility of becoming foster parents. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do – to give back. It would be a pleasure,” says Daniel.

Impact: What was the impact of your work last year? Please also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

Child Advocates’ goal to provide all of the county’s foster children with a CASA is based on the fact that foster children with CASAs achieve greater outcomes than those without. Last year, 93% of our youth completed their high school requirements, compared to fewer than 50% of foster children nationwide; and, 73% of Child Advocates’ children ages 3 to 5 were enrolled in pre-school, compared to just 35% of all 3 to 5-year-old Santa Clara County foster children. A 2016 survey of our volunteers revealed: • 95% felt they have made a positive difference in their child’s life • 83% provided educational support to their child over the last year • 89% engaged in healthy eating and physical activities with their child that encouraged a healthy life style • 99% would recommend the CASA experience to others

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Annual Budget

  • $1mil - $5mil

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is your solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

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 (28%), individuals (16%), government entities (16%), foundations (18%), corporations (17%), and other (5%).

Unique Value Proposition: How else is this problem being addressed? Are there other organizations working in the same field, and how does your project differ from these other approaches?

Child Advocates is the only agency in the county that provides CASAs to foster youth. Because our volunteers are appointed by a dependency court judge, they have complete access to the child’s case, and have the ability to discuss the child’s needs with teachers, doctors, social workers and foster parents, thereby providing a comprehensive perspective on what the child needs in order to thrive. CASAs assist their child in accessing needed resources, follow their school progress, help create a sense of belonging to the larger community, and speak up for their child’s best interests in court.

Reflect on the Field and its Future: Stepping outside of your project, what do you see as the most important or promising shifts that can advance children’s wellbeing?

We are seeing an increase in collaboration across county agencies in order to best meet the needs of foster children. Child Advocates is extensively involved in several of these collaboratives. For example, we are part of the Opportunity Youth Partnership (OYP), a countywide effort designed to decrease the drop-out rate and increase the employment rate for youth ages 16-24 who are part of the foster system, pregnant or parenting, engaged in the justice system and/or homeless. OYP is a part of a nationwide pilot program intended to raise awareness about the needs of Opportunity Youth.

Source: How did you hear about the Children’s Wellbeing Challenge? (the answer will not be public)

  • Email

Evaluation results

3 evaluations so far

1. Relevance: Does this project seem to help children (ages 0 to 12 years) develop a strong sense of self, belonging, and purpose?

5 - Yes, this is great! The project lays out a strong, compelling case for how its model nurtures children’s wellbeing. - 100%

4 - It seems like a good fit, and the model talks explicitly about children’s wellbeing. - 0%

3 - I think so. The project seems related to children’s wellbeing, but the logic is vague. - 0%

2 - Not sure. The project doesn’t have much to do with wellbeing, or it doesn’t give enough information. - 0%

1 - Nope, this project definitely doesn’t fit the challenge brief (e.g., It doesn’t help kids younger than 12, isn’t in the U.S., etc.) - 0%

2. Innovation: Does this project tackle children’s wellbeing from a new angle?

5 - I loved this! The project describes a novel model that addresses important cultural or systemic barriers. - 0%

4 - This is pretty cool. The project is addressing an important problem in a new or compelling way. - 33.3%

3 - I feel like there’s something there, but I want more details about what makes it distinctive. - 0%

2 - It’s a good project, but I’ve seen others like it before. - 66.7%

1 - It was confusing or hard to tell what it made it different. - 0%

3. Social Impact: What is this project’s potential for creating positive social impact?

5 - Lots of potential. This project is achieving impressive results, and it’s growing quickly. It could absolutely inspire changes in the ways we approach caring for kids nationally, across sectors (e.g. childcare, healthcare, education). - 0%

4 - Pretty good potential. This project demonstrates significant positive impact so far, and it could scale regionally or nationally one day and fundamentally change how a system operates (e.g. childcare, healthcare, education). - 100%

3 - Budding potential. This project is creating local impact, but it would take a few adjustments before it could scale. - 0%

2 - Some potential. This project demonstrates some initial positive impact, but it would require major changes before it could scale. - 0%

1 - Limited potential. This project has great intentions, but it looks like it does not include key drivers of a shift towards children’s wellbeing. - 0%

4. Overall, how do you feel about this idea?

5 - This idea rocked my world. It’s awesome! - 0%

4 - This idea seems really exciting. With a little more polishing, it’d be among my favorites. - 50%

3 - I think the idea is great, but it needs some work before it moves onto the next round. - 0%

2 - I liked it fine but preferred others. - 50%

1 - It didn’t make my heart beat faster. Needs significant revisions. - 0%

5. Offer some feedback. Where should this participant spend some time revising?

DEFINING THE PROBLEM. Make sure to articulate the root causes or main barriers of the social issue your project addresses. (Founding Story, Problem, Solution). - 0%

CLARITY OF MODEL. Make sure to mention (a.) the beneficiary, b) the main activities, and c) how those activities drive social impact. Keep it streamlined! - 100%

MARKETPLACE. Make sure to research other players in this space and articulate how this project is different. I didn’t get a complete sense of how this project compares to others. - 100%

IMPACT POTENTIAL. Make sure to use specific numbers to describe what your project has achieved so far! And consider how you might scale the model or its insights, through partnerships, trainings, or franchising. - 100%

WRITING STYLE. Try to stay concise and make it vivid. Avoid jargon. - 0%

Nothing stands out! I thought it was great. - 0%

1 comment

Join the conversation:

Photo of Melanie Gilbert

Hi Karen,
Greetings from a foster-adopt mom in Boston, and a fellow Changemaker (I Am SOMEBODY: Raising Hope and Awareness for Children in Foster Care). I wish my kids had had a CASA during their time in foster care . . . . The impact a caring and consistent adult can have on the life of children whose lives are traumatically upended is priceless. I am a huge supporter of CASAs in general, and your project in particular.

Out of the 41 submissions, there are 3 foster care-related projects in the Ashoka/RJWF Children's Wellbeing Challenge. Besides you and me, there's Boston-based Marquis Cabrera's submission. I'm impressed that we 3 applied. It makes me feel like the foster care message is beginning to break through and reach a larger audience.

Win, lose or draw, we are already benefiting from this Challenge by connecting with one another.

Best of luck with your project.

- Melanie

PS: Just followed you on Twitter ;)