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CAB Connection - June 2023

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Volunteer Spotlight:  Cindi Smith, CASA Advocate


Seven years ago CASA Volunteer Cindi Smith took her first case assignment in Linn County, Iowa and has been on the go ever since advocating for children's needs to be met. “She really is a great volunteer,” shares Jennifer Gericke, her local CASA coordinator, “Cindi has been so faithful to the children she has worked with, taking the initiative to make sure she sees each child every 30 days and to check in with the parents and other adults involved in the child’s life. She has always been determined to be there for kids - and it shows in her advocacy and also her willingness to learn more at on-going trainings”.  Read on as Cindi shares a little about her experience…

How do you take the leap into volunteering as a CASA, what's your 'why'?
As I was nearing retirement, there was a story in the news about a five-year old girl who was murdered by her mother’s boyfriend who had also been sexually abusing her. What bothered me the most was the family had anongoing open Child In Need of Assistance case, yet the child’s safety was not assured. Shortly after telling my husband I wanted to do something to help these children, he showed me an article in our local newspaper about the CASA program, stating they were looking for volunteers. I had never heard of the CASA program before reading that article and was grateful to find a volunteer program that helped children involved with the juvenile court system. When I applied for the program and took the training 7-1/2 years ago, I had no idea how much impact a CASA could have for these children, and I have exceeded my expectations on finding a way to help them. 

Talk a little bit about in-service trainings
I worked in the business world for 49 years, and my only experience with children was as a parent, aunt, and grandparent.  I had zero experience with HHS or children involved with HHS.  My initial and on-going monthly training has given me the tools and knowledge needed to be an effective and unbiased CASA. I always learn something new, get reminded of something I have forgotten, or get re-energized after attending the monthly in-service training or read a recommended book. Since a CASA works independently most of the time, the in-person training is a good time to connect with other CASA volunteers and learn from their experiences. 

A pivotal moment on a case where your advocacy helped the child(ren)
Since being sworn in as a CASA, I have been appointed to 6 different families and 21 children.  I’ve learned that everyone working on these cases are very dedicated to what they do but are working with many families at the

same time and have a very heavy workload.  Turnover is high, so continuity is also an issue. Since I am only working with one or sometimes two families, I have more time to thoroughly read and re-read all case documents, check in with teachers, school principals, daycares, therapists, medical providers, and relatives, and provide this information to HHS and the GAL, and write a detailed, unbiased court report for the judge, parents, and attorneys.  I had a case that had been an open CINA case for many years before I was appointed.  After reading the case documents and myobservations at visits, I believed there was a deeper concern that had not been identified.   After attending a Foster Care Review Board meeting and voicing my concerns, the foster parents also voiced their concerns on what they had been seeing.  After hearing this, the Foster Care Review Board recommended an evaluation of the child by the Child Protection Center.  That evaluation led to some big changes for the family and the child was protected moving forward.

Something that's inspired you during good and bad times
Being a CASA volunteer is not easy and can be emotionally draining but I can’t think of anything more important than helping these children who have experienced neglect and abuse. You are meeting and working with some of these families at the worst time of their lives, and you need to empathize with them while remaining vigilant in making sure the children are safe and have permanency as soon as possible. When I get frustrated because I can’t get people to return my calls, can’t get access to a report I need, can’t get a visit arranged, or invited to a meeting, I think back to

when a GAL told me she asked for a CASA to be appointed since they needed someone to figure out what was going on, or when a judge announced in court that she was so glad I was on this case since there had been so much turnover with the case workers, or when an estranged grandmother thanked me for finding her so she could reestablish a relationship with her grandson, or when an adoptive foster parent gave me a keychain as a gift that stated, “You make a difference.”

Judge Owens


ICAB Member Spotlight:  Judge William Owens

Judge William Owens, of Ottumwa, is currently serving as the chair of the Iowa Child
Advisory Board (ICAB) and acts as the Judicial Representative.

Q. What has been a highlight of being a part of ICAB so far?
A. Working with a great group of volunteers who care about kids and families and work as
partners with the child welfare system to achieve better results for kids and families. In addition,
having the chance to work with Steffani (Director of ICAB) and her staff - in both programs -
who are dedicated to their calling of protecting kids and helping families achieve better results.

Q. What are your future goals for ICAB as board president?
A. We worked very hard during the last legislative session to address concerns regarding the
planned realignment of ICAB within the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS). Now that the realignment has occurred, our goal is to work with HHS to allow ICAB to fulfill our
statutory duty of oversight. This includes the boards responsibility to conduct annual evaluations of the child welfare system in order to make objective and fact based recommendations to the Governor’s office and the Legislature on problem areas within the system that impact child protection and permanency. In addition, ICAB is required through its local boards and through the CASA program to make credible recommendations to juvenile courts in order to foster the safety, permanency and well-being of children in out-of-home care. We will work tirelessly to ensure ICAB retains that oversight role.

Q. Why do you think CASA and FCRB are valuable to the children and families of Iowa?
A. In part for the reasons I stated - local Foster Care Review Boards protect the interests of
Iowa’s children by conducting independent and objective evaluations of HHS adherence to law
and policy in individual cases. Our local boards are a trusted and independent child welfare
partner that presents objective recommendations to the court and other system officials on what
is in the best interest of children for their safety, permanency and well-being.
CASA volunteers are appointed by local juvenile judges to advocate for a child’s best
interests. The citizen volunteer stays with each case until it is closed and the child is in a safe,
permanent home. Iowa CASA volunteers serve children from birth through adulthood – but with permission of the court can remain as a resource for a youth beyond age eighteen. CASA
volunteers work with legal and child welfare professionals, educators and service providers to
ensure that juvenile judges in Iowa have all the information they need to make the most well-
informed decisions for each child.

CASA volunteer’s best-interest advocacy is driven by the guiding principle that a child
grows and develops best with their family of origin, if that can be safely achieved. CASA
volunteers learn all they can about the child and his or her family by regularly visiting with the
child. CASA volunteers collaborate with others in their case to ensure services necessary to
achieve the child’s permanency goal are being provided. Finally, the CASA volunteer reports to
the court what they learned during meetings with the child and family, and then speak up for the
child in court and make independent, fact-based recommendations to the juvenile court that are
in the best interests of the child.

About Judge Owens
Judge Owens is Senior Judge of District 8 in Iowa. He was first appointed to the ICAB
board in 2018 then reappointed in 2022 at which time he was selected as the chair. It was during
this term that Judge Owens received the Honorable David W. Soukup Judge of the Year Award
from the National Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA)/ Guardian ad Litem (GAL)
Association. The Judge of the Year award is named for the founder of the CASA model and
honors the contributions of a judge who has advanced the best interest of children through
support of the CASA model.

Judge Owens is a member of the National CASA/GAL Judicial Leadership Council. He
additionally serves as the co-chair of the Iowa Supreme Court Advisory Committee for
Children’s justice, is a member of the State Council of the Iowa Supreme Court Commission for
Children’s Justice and is chair of the Juvenile Judge Committee of the Iowa Judges Association.

National Family Reunification Month

June is dedicated as National Family Reunification Month, a time to emphasize the
importance of reuniting children in the child welfare system with their families of origin. While
this observance highlights the efforts of child welfare professionals, foster parents, and the entire
community in supporting the reunification process, it is also a reminder of the significance of
keeping families intact whenever possible.

Family reunification is considered the primary permanency option of the foster care
system, as it recognizes the value of preserving the parent-child bond. Studies have shown
returning the child as soon as safely possible provides them with a sense of stability and
belonging. Reunification can also lead to improved self-esteem, academic success, and long-term resilience compared to children who remain in foster care.

In Iowa, more than 50 percent of the children who exit foster care return to their families,
according to available numbers from the Iowa Department of Health and Human Services.
However, reunification requires comprehensive, family-focused services to support the
establishment of a safe and stable environment. These services need to be tailored for each
family’s specific situation to address the problems or issues that first brought the child into the
system. And this is where Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) and Iowa Citizens Foster
Care Review Board (FCRB) volunteers can truly make an impact and ensure the best interests of
the child are being met as the family prepares to reunite.

Four objectives have been identified by professionals as essential for successful and
lasting reunification:
1. Holding family team meetings while the child is still in the system to improve
communication and feedback.
2. Setting clear, realistic terms for return.
3. Establishing post-reunification supports.
4. Ensuring respectful case worker and family relationships.

CASA and FCRB volunteers can play significant roles in these areas. Since CASA
volunteers get to know the child they advocate for and develop a comprehensive understanding
of the child’s situation, they can provide valuable input on needed supports and any progress
being made. Their regular visits with the child also give them opportunities to see how the child
is doing during the process and what they may be thinking and feeling.

FCRB members already work as a team as they review a child’s case with service
providers, parents and other key people involved. They help problem solve so parents can clear
hurdles they may face and appropriate services can be provided. They also serve as a third-party
that can help set realistic goals and objectively evaluate progress. Ultimately, the board helps
keep everything on track and progressing in a timely manner toward permanency.
The process of family reunification requires a collaborative approach involving child
welfare agencies, foster parents, biological parents, and community resources. It demands
compassion, understanding, and support for parents who may be facing significant challenges
such as substance abuse, mental health issues, or socioeconomic hardships. By actively participating in reunification efforts, CASA and FCRB volunteers can help ensure that children
have the opportunity to grow and thrive in the embrace of their families.


Welcome to Our New Volunteers!

Kathleen Alons, CASA, Sioux County Kali Cam, CASA, Polk County
Shanlynn Estes, CASA, Hardin County Kaylyn Hakanson, CASA, Dallas County
Sue Hetherington, CASA, Polk County Teresa Keller, CASA, Mills County
Kylie Loughlin, FCRB, Cherokee County Claire Muselman, CASA, Dallas County
Cassie Raasch, CASA, Johnson County Alexa Sammler, CASA, Johnson County
Kristina Stevenson, CASA, Jones County  


Friends Logo


Spring has sprung, and that means getting your air conditioner ready for the summer months ahead. Friends of Iowa CASA and ICFCRB is partnering with Golden Rule Plumbing, Heating, Cooling & Electrical for their first ever Gold Club $300K Giveaway! Starting now, you have the chance to purchase a Gold Club membership with Golden Rule and they will donate the full cost of that membership to Friends ($99/membership)! Make sure to mention our name over the phone or use the coupon code IOWACASAFRIENDS23 on their online store! 

Your Gold Club membership includes annual free inspections for your plumbing, HVAC, and electrical systems, and all Gold Club members go to the front of the service line, never pay a trip charge, and get 10 percent off all repairs.

To learn more and purchase online, click here or scan the QR Code!

Golden Rule


In Iowa, it costs an average of $1,800 for one child to have a CASA volunteer for one year; on average, it is $850 for a volunteer foster care review board to review one child for one year. While Friends of Iowa CASA and ICFCRB has made progress towards serving every at-risk child in Iowa, we still have work to do.

In recognition of that, Friends has created the Advocates Circle: any donor who contributes $850 or more to Friends of Iowa CASA and ICFCRB on an annual basis will receive recognition in our Annual Report and verbal recognition at events in the donor’s local area.

Your leadership gift today will help recruit, train and support more CASA and FCRB volunteers in Iowa who provide the best outcomes for our state’s most vulnerable children. You may make a one-time donation or a monthly gift (NOTE: please enter your gift in the custom field and set the frequency to recurring).

Membership Levels:

Ally: $850 (or $70 monthly)
Champion: $1,800 (or $150 monthly)
Guardian: $2,650 (or $220 monthly)
Visionary: $3,000 (or $250 monthly)

Join the #AdvocatesCircle today by scanning the QR code or clicking here.



SAVE THE DATE! Friends of Iowa CASA and ICFCRB will host the Eastern Corridor Evening of Hope at Cedar Ridge Winery and Distillery on August 17. Details to come!

The Cedar Rapids Freedom Festival is just around the corner from June 14-July 4. This tradition will celebrate 40 years in 2023, and now when you support the festival as a volunteer, you can also support the CASA and FCRB programs! The Freedom Festival’s Win-Win-Win Volunteer Program will “pay” volunteers $25 to a non-profit or charity of the volunteer’s choice for every four-hour shift the volunteer works. For more information, click here.

June Anniversaries

Trainer's Corner


For FCRB Members & CASA Advocates:  The Importance of Summertime Fun 

The ICAB newsletter’s training articles over the course of the past several months has focused on trauma, early relational health, and resilience.  To expand upon those articles, we continue with broadening our understanding of how to support and build resilience in the children we serve. 

Bruce Perry, renowned brain development and the impact of trauma expert, shares key insights into how we effectively buffer adversity.  

 "Connectedness has the power to counterbalance adversity. Connectedness allows people to heal. Being with people who are present, supportive, and nurturing." ~ Bruce Perry

As Advocates and Board Members consider the lives of the children we serve, we can routinely ask about the connections the children have with their caretakers and other supportive adults.  We can recommend experiences that provide positive relational health and benevolent childhood experiences (or using other language, protective and promotive factors).  

As we look forward through the dog days of summer, CASA Advocates, FCRB Board Members, neighbors, family members, parents and caregivers can remember that the longer days could mean more risks for adversity, OR it could mean greater opportunities for buffering effects to occur in a child’s life. During a symposium for educators, Bruce Perry was asked, what is the best thing everyone concerned about children can do to better prepare children for going back to school.  His answer was, “Play with them!” 

“Play with them and let them play, and let them play with each other. Let them sort of reconnect with their friends, you know, do things that are fun. What that means is, if your kids over the summer have a regulating and rewarding set of experiences, they're going to come to school ready to go to work.”

“I think fun is the best way to learn things. I think kids keep telling us that when they find something that they enjoy. It's amazing what they can learn. So I am always happy to let them play, let them take the lead when it comes to acquisition of cognitive content.”

Here are some ideas to jump start our advocacy for children to have fun this summer:

Light Bulb

The Importance of Play and Fun in Relational Trauma Recovery | Psychology Today 

The Power of Play for Addressing Trauma in Early Years 

We’re All in This Together: How Music and Singing Benefits Trauma-Affected Children | JCFS 

Benefits of Exercise for Children who have Experienced Trauma  


To support your continuous learning journey within our organization and your advocacy efforts as a CASA, please consider registering for one of our upcoming Speaker Series in-service training sessions! 

Iowa ACEs 360 Join us as Lisa Cushatt and Bri Deason from Iowa ACEs 360 provide an overview of ACEs and the current state of ACEs in Iowa. Learn how hope and resiliency along with relationships impact ACEs. Appropriate recommendations made by CASAs and Board Members will be discussed and participants will be provided with a lived experience perspective. This training will be recorded so please only register to attend the live event. The recording can be made available upon request following the event. June 5 from Noon to 1 pm. Click here to register!

Hear Us Out: Advancing the Ideas and Needs of Older Youth Join Kayla Powell, Department of Human Rights, as she shares updated information from youth across Iowa. Find out about survey results from youth in Iowa sharing how they are being authentically partnered with while in the system and recommendations on how Advocates can advance the youth's voice and needs. Also included will be the latest 2023 updates to the Talking Wall project. August 24, 2023 Noon- 1 pm. As this session will be recorded, please only register for the live event. The recording will be made available upon request. Click here to register!

Coming Soon!!  Understanding HHS SafeCare  Join Sara Buis on July 14th from noon to 1 pm to hear more about HHS’ Family Centered Service, SafeCare. 

Quest Mark

If you have questions, please contact the State Trainer at lesa.christianson@dia.iowa.gov.