Child Outcomes and Volunteer Effectiveness: Selection Bias Study

CFRP Report | R.015.0317

March 2017  
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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Texas Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children (Texas CASA) contracted with Dr. Cynthia Osborne and the Child and Family Research Partnership (CFRP) at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin to design a comprehensive study to evaluate the effectiveness of the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) services provided in Texas. Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) is a national network of nonprofit organizations providing trained volunteer advocates to represent the interests of children who enter substitute care.

Existing research on the effectiveness of CASA is scant and does not provide strong empirical evidence on whether CASA services are associated with improved safety, permanency, and wellbeing outcomes among the children they serve. To address this gap in the research, and to inform CASA’s program and service improvement efforts at the state and local levels, CFRP designed a four-phase evaluation project called the Child Outcomes and Volunteer Effectiveness (COVE) study. The broad goals of the COVE evaluation are to determine the extent to which CASA services improve the permanency, safety, and well-being outcomes of children in the custody of the state, and to identify the factors that enhance or limit the effective implementation of CASA services.

This report details the activities and findings of the first phase of the COVE project: the Selection Bias Study. Children are often not randomly selected to receive a CASA volunteer advocate. Prior research and anecdotal information indicate that CASAs are typically assigned to the most complex or serious cases when the demand for CASA services exceeds the supply of volunteers. When the baseline characteristics of cases or children assigned a CASA volunteer differ from those not assigned a CASA volunteer, it is not possible to determine whether any observed differences in outcomes are due to pre-existing differences, or whether they are due to the CASA intervention itself. As a first step toward a rigorous analysis of outcomes associated with CASA services, the Selection Bias Study addresses this primary research aim:

What are the child-, family-, and case-level differences between children who are appointed to receive a CASA volunteer advocate and children who are not?

To answer this question, CFRP examined a cohort of children who entered substitute care in Texas in fiscal years 2013 and 2014 and compared the children who were appointed to receive a CASA volunteer advocate with the children who were not. Key findings indicate that, consistent with prior research, there are child-, family-, and case-level differences between children who are selected to receive CASA services and those who are not, and these differences generally indicate that CASA-appointed cases involve a greater degree of severity or complexity.

Among the findings suggesting that more complex cases are more likely to get a CASA, we find that CASA is significantly more likely to be appointed to children in larger sibling groups, children who experience more types of maltreatment leading to their removal, and older children. The presence of more caregiver risk factors, more prior CPS investigations, and indications of past or current domestic violence in the home are also associated with higher odds of CASA appointment. We also find that children who are placed in a relative’s home as their initial placement upon entering care are less likely to be appointed to CASA compared to children placed in foster homes or other nonrelative initial placement types. In addition, the supply of CASA volunteer advocates relative to demand matters. Children who enter care in communities in which CASA is able to provide services to a high proportion of the children in substitute care are more likely to be appointed a CASA volunteer advocate. These findings are summarized in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Summary of Characteristics Associated with CASA Appointment

 

Understanding the factors associated with CASA appointment among children in substitute care in Texas provides a strong groundwork for conducting the next phase of the COVE study, comparing the outcomes of children who were appointed a CASA with those who were not, while accounting for the differences between these groups. The insight gained from the Selection Bias Study is a crucial step toward being able to identify the unique impact that CASA services have on the safety, permanency, and well-being children in substitute care in Texas.

Click here to read the full report.

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