Category Archives: CASA of NWA

National CASA Conference 2023

Earlier this summer several of our staff and board members had the opportunity to travel to St. Louis for the 2023 National CASA conference. The conference theme this year, “Strong Families. Strong Futures.” provided participants with opportunities to dive in and learn about the tragic realities of living in foster care and why it is so vitally important to the well-being of the children we serve to support the whole family.

Our staff and board members in attendance shared some of the ideas they felt were most impactful and important to bring home with them.

Children in foster care are more likely to die, go to jail, be sex trafficked, or become pregnant than they are to attend college.

30-35 percent of our youth in care are LGBTQIA+. They are overrepresented and very underserved! -Crystal Vickmark, Executive Director

If we don’t support families, we will inevitably end up with more children in care. There are core beliefs about families (the family is incapable of taking care of their children), youth (they are exhibiting bad behaviors that cause more issues), and child welfare staff (there is not enough support) that create a never-ending cycle. Breaking this cycle at any place will lead to change.

Consistency in case workers is extremely instrumental in successful reunification for children and their families. 74 percent of cases that have only one caseworker throughout the case end in reunification. That number drops to 13 percent if a case has two or more caseworkers. -Jerrilyn Dailey, Board Member

CASA volunteers can help advocate by helping balance power in meetings, at court, or in other environments where children or parents may feel they have to fight, flee, or conform. We have to examine how our families show up to meetings and help them feel comfortable enough to speak about their needs. Otherwise, no matter the service, the problem is not fixed, and further trauma is created.

The biggest gap in the welfare system is communication. Many have been trained in trauma-informed care but not in the necessary communication skills to support children and families. Each person involved in the system should be honest, transparent, empathetic, and have the ability to actively listen. -Eugenia Marks, Advocate Supervisor

It is a privilege and not a right to be in the lives of these children and their families.

One in 100 black children’s parental rights have been terminated since the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997.  This is an astronomical number and one that should help us rethink the timelines that this law put into place.

Every decision we make has the chance to affect generations of people in one family. The recommendations we make on our cases have the potential to affect children and their families, but we must also be mindful that these can also ripple to affect future generations of that family as well. -Shelley Hart, Program Director

We need to address poverty to radically change our approach to child welfare. Changing our mindset to empower, equip, and heal is essential to course-correct the child welfare system.

Our language matters. What we call things has a massive impact on how they are perceived and the action that follows. -Elise de Waal, Board Treasurer

We have to do a better job of seeing the youth we serve as resources, rather than just objects or recipients of our support. When we look to develop or change programs, if we aren’t seeking the input and wisdom of the youth the program is intended for, then we are missing out on valuable insights. Sometimes the best ideas come from brainstorming with youth, rather than just for youth.

If we care about children, we have to also care about their families. When we remove children from their homes, it is always traumatizing for them. Children need belonging first, and then services and treatment second. Relationships and belonging are what make healing happen. -Sadie Perkins, Communications and Older Youth Specialist

Set an intention to read “A Place Called Home” by David Ambroz.

These kids are placed into a system that is not designed for them.

The importance of being an ethical storyteller. We are entrusted with their stories, and we have a responsibility with how and where we share it. -Courtney Voigt, Director of Development and Marketing 

As Shelley pointed out, it truly is a privilege to be in the lives of the children and families we serve in our community. The 2023 National CASA Conference was a powerful reminder of this privilege and inspired us to continue to join in the work of helping build strong families and a stronger future.

Types of Foster Care Placements

Types of Foster Care Placements

Foster care is a crucial safety net for children unable to live with their birth families. It provides a temporary home and supportive environment for children in need, allowing them to heal, grow, and thrive. However, not all foster care placements are created equal. There are various types of foster care placements, each with its unique challenges, benefits, and requirements. Children can be in foster care from birth to age 21, potentially living in many different types of homes throughout their time in the foster care system.

Where does a child go when they enter foster care? 

When a child’s well-being and safety are at risk, the Department of Human Services (DHS) can step in and remove the child from their home. When removed, the child(ren) is assigned a case worker. It is the case worker’s responsibility to find an immediate placement. The first place they look for placement is with a relative. If no relative is available, they look for open foster homes or other placement options. The main priority on the first night is to find a bed for the child(ren) to sleep in for the night.

On average, in our local area, a child spends 15 months in the foster care system but sometimes spends many years in the system. Here in Northwest Arkansas, we have a child who has been in care for over seven years.

Over a child’s time in foster care, they may be placed in various placements based on their needs and the current goal of the case. Throughout the case, the goal can change based on the work put into the parents’ case plan and what is in the best interest of the child. As the child is evaluated by DCFS, CASA, and other parties, recommendations for placement are put forward to the judge. These placements range from less to more restrictive based on various factors. Many of the children in our foster care system have been through traumatic experiences, which dictates various needs for the children. Below is a chart detailing the different types of placements a child can receive.

How does a CASA advocate for where a child should be placed?

CASA volunteers assess cases to understand the child’s individual needs. During the process of understanding the family history and getting to know the child, the CASA volunteer makes recommendations on placement for the child. They consider the best options for the child(ren) and look for opportunities for them to thrive while receiving the necessary level of care.

One issue our CASA volunteers encounter around placements is foster homes not having adequate space for large sibling groups. This causes siblings to be split up and placed in different foster homes. The CASA volunteer is always persistent in advocating for siblings to be placed together or live nearby and help ensure sibling visits occur regularly to maintain their bond.

Throughout the life of the case, CASA volunteers advocate for children to be placed with family members and constantly look for unidentified relatives as potential placement and permanency options. Unfortunately, in many cases, family members are not always an option for the child(ren) to stay with. Some family members do not meet the standards of the department for placement. This can be due to criminal background checks, child maltreatment checks, financial situations, and or inadequate space in the home for the child(ren). When these situations arise, the CASA volunteer looks further into the barrier and assesses whether resources and support could be offered to the family member to help get the placement of the child.

Placement types fall into the following categories and are overseen by the Child Welfare Agency Review Board and Disability Rights Arkansas (DRA). Look through the multiple pages to see each type.


Foster Placements

Older Youth – Worth the Investment

CASA October 2015-99

CASA of Northwest Arkansas has been serving foster teens since its inception in 1997. In 2013, we created the Older Youth program to specifically address the unique needs of this community. We believe these young people need us now more than ever. The Jim Casey Initiative agrees and published a business case for investing in youth aging out of foster care. Please take a moment to read the Cost Avoidance Issue Brief.

7th Annual CASA of Northwest Arkansas “Light of Hope” Breakfast and Lunch Events

CASA Light of Hope

CASA Light of Hope

On November 18th, 770 guests came together for the Light of Hope breakfast in Rogers and 280 for the luncheon in Springdale to hear about the mission of CASA of Northwest Arkansas. “Light of Hope” is a national movement to light a symbol of hope for abused and neglected children who are under the jurisdiction of the nation’s family court systems. CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) is a non-profit which promotes and supports quality volunteer representation with the goal of providing each child a safe, permanent and nurturing home.

Net proceeds for both the breakfast and the lunch were tallied at over $240,000. These funds will support the recruitment and training of community volunteers to serve children of abuse and neglect in Northwest Arkansas.  There also was an outpouring of interest from attendees to train and become advocates for these children. The goal of CASA of Northwest Arkansas is to provide an advocate for every child in the foster care system. This past year there were more than 900 children who came into foster care and CASA served on cases for 527 of them.

Emcee for the morning was Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, EVP and Treasurer, Walmart.  Babineaux-Fontenot opened the morning by thanking the many sponsors of the event and introducing  Honorary Chair Rosalind Brewer, CEO Sam’s Club, who’s remarks cited the important work CASA is doing in Northwest Arkansas.

Mike and Susan Duke took the stage to present the “Duke Outstanding Service Award” to Claire Babineaux- Fontenot in recognition of her life-long support of foster children, her service to National CASA as a board member, and her commitment to the CASA mission.

The outstanding keynote speaker for the breakfast was Jack Sinclair, EVP, Walmart US Grocery Division.  “Sadly, there are too many abused and neglected children in our community. CASA of Northwest Arkansas makes a difference in the lives of those children,” Sinclair said. “I encourage all of you to support CASA in their outstanding work. We should stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves.”

The luncheon keynote speaker, Dennis Leatherby, CFO of Tyson Foods, gave a heart-felt message, “Our children are our future– they’re everything, and when they are in need, we should step up and be their voice. CASA is an organization that speaks on behalf of children time and time again. I couldn’t be more proud to support CASA’s incredible efforts to help abused and neglected children in Northwest Arkansas.”

The inspirational speaker for both the breakfast and the lunch was Elizabeth Lyon, a young mother who told of her personal journey of drug abuse,  losing custody of her small children, and how her faith and her children’s CASA, Jan Halgrim, helped turn her life around and regain custody of her daughters.

Contact information:

Julie Lolley, CASA Director of Development & Marketing




Support for Area Children Grows with CASA’s Expansion into New Facility: Capitol campaign will help fund growth and services

Springdale, Ark., June 22, 2014 – Since June 2013, more than 500 abused and neglected children in Northwest Arkansas were represented in court by volunteer advocates thanks to CASA of Northwest Arkansas. But as the region continues to grow, demand for CASA’s services has increased, leaving hundreds of other children in need of the support these Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) provide. The non-profit is working to meet the demand and today officially opened its new facility at 3825 Cawood Lane in Springdale in a move that will position it to provide additional services.

Judge Stacy Zimmerman with CASA Advocate Lon Hudson

Judge Stacy Zimmerman with CASA Advocate Lon Hudson

“More than 1,000 children in our region entered foster care last year due to severe physical abuse, sexual abuse or neglect,” said Crystal Vickmark, executive director, CASA of Northwest Arkansas. “Our goal for the future is to provide an advocate for every hurting child in foster care. This facility represents each of those children and the future of our organization.”

Longtime CASA supporters Mike and Susan Duke are serving as co-chairmen of the campaign.

“CASA of Northwest Arkansas is the voice in our communities for children who have experienced abuse and neglect,” said Susan Duke. “To stand in the gap for these children is a privilege and necessity. A trained CASA volunteer works on behalf of the children’s best interest and advocates for each child’s needs,” she added. “As our communities and population have grown so have the numbers of abused and neglected children. Each child deserves a voice speaking on their behalf, and as CASA volunteer advocates and supporters, Mike and I encourage the community to join us in supporting this organization.”

The campaign has already seen support from several Northwest Arkansas residents and organizations including Mike and Susan Duke, The Glass Family Foundation, Don and JoAnn Soderquist, Todd and Shelly Simmons, and Tyson Foods. Additional members of the capital campaign committee are Claire Fontenot, James Keenan, Steve and Kim Lane, and Chris Mitchell.

Pictured from left, CASA Older Youth Specialist Mary Osborn, CASA board member Ryan Blue, advocate Tracy Rosser, and CASA Advocate Supervisor Laura Jones

Pictured from left, CASA Older Youth Specialist Mary Osborn, CASA board member Ryan Blue, advocate Tracy Rosser, and CASA Advocate Supervisor Laura Jones

“I’m passionate about working for Tyson Foods and I’m passionate about the work that CASA of Northwest Arkansas does to better the lives of children in need,” said Attorney for Tyson Foods and CASA Board Member Chris Mitchell. “I’m fortunate to be involved in such a unique event that brings these two things together.”

As part of Tyson Foods’ charitable efforts in Northwest Arkansas, the company donated $100,000 to CASA to help with the building purchase and renovations.

“We are grateful to live in a region that cares deeply for its children,” said Vickmark. “CASA of Northwest Arkansas exists because of our volunteers and our donors. For more than 16 years we have served the most vulnerable members of our community by providing them with trained volunteers who make recommendations to juvenile judges in their best interests. We are their voice, their advocate and champion for healing.”

Vickmark shared that while CASA’s plan for growth is ambitious, it is necessary in order to serve those that aren’t currently represented.

Pictured left to right, Brett Biggs, CASA advocate Kara Biggs, Steve Lane, advocate and former CASA board member Kim Lane, Capital Campaign Chairs Susan and Mike Duke.

Pictured left to right, Brett Biggs, CASA advocate Kara Biggs, Steve Lane, advocate and former CASA board member Kim Lane, Capital Campaign Chairs Susan and Mike Duke.

A child with a CASA spends less time in foster care and is less likely to be shuffled around the system. CASA’s individualized services help meet the physical, emotional, medical, and educational needs of each child, ultimately ensuring that the child finds a safe and permanent home in less time.

For more information about the campaign, contact Julie Lolley, director of development and marketing, at 725-2213.

About CASA of Northwest Arkansas Founded in 1997, CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) is a 501c3 organization that recruits and trains qualified, caring adults to speak for the best interests of abused and neglected children in court, with the goal of moving each child in foster care to a safe, permanent home.

Contact Information:

Julie Lolley 725-2213 julie@nwacasa.org

1,200 Local Foster Children Receive New Toys and More From Toy Industry Foundation with Court Appointed Special Advocates

TIF-Arkansas-2014-5357Lowell, AR | June 20, 2014 – More than 400 local foster children living in Benton, Washington, Madison and Carroll counties were gifted with brand new toys yesterday (June 19) during a fun-filled afternoon hosted by the Toy Industry Foundation (TIF) and The National CASA Association for CASA of Northwest Arkansas. An additional 800 children will receive new playthings throughout the year on special occasions and holidays thanks to continued support from TIF.

Children served by CASA of Northwest Arkansas enjoyed a full day of bowling, go-karting, and laser tag at Fast Lane Entertainment Center in Lowell before taking home a brand new toy, choosing from a selection of ride-on toys and other items donated by generous toy manufacturers and retailers to The Toy Bank, the Toy Industry Foundation’s signature giving program. The fun continued outside of the Center with a sea of bubbles for the children to play in, and a special photo booth providing keepsakes for the day.

TIF-Arkansas-2014-5415“Every child needs and deserves play, which is why we were so proud to make this event possible,” said Jean Butler, Executive Director of the Toy Industry Foundation. “The complex foster care and family court systems are confusing and frightening for foster children. By providing these kids with a toy to call their own, and a fun play experience like this, we are showing them that we are thinking about them, and that we care.”

“Children in foster care have lost so much. These gifts will mean the world to them,” said National CASA Association CEO Michael Piraino. “We are grateful to the Toy Industry Foundation for their support and commitment to bringing joy to children during a very difficult time in their lives.”

“We aren’t able to go out much, so this made their whole day,” said Shasheen Downes, foster mother of two. “They get to play games, have dinner, and get a free toy! It’s such a blessing.”

TIF-Arkansas-2014-5574Today’s event was held as part of the joint TIF / CASA national partnership, which was launched in early 2013 to provide hope and toys to children living in foster care. To date, the initiative has distributed 120,000 toys to foster children nationwide. TIF has also provided CASA with a total of $400,000 in grant-funding to date to train and increase the number of court-appointed volunteers who provide one-on-one advocacy and support for children waiting to be placed in loving, permanent homes. The next TIF / CASA toy distribution will take place on July 19th and will bring the joy of play to 5,000 foster children in Kansas City, MO.

TIF-Arkansas-2014-5611Gifts distributed at this event were generously donated to TIF’s Toy Bank by Funrise Toy Corporation, Hasbro, Mattel, Redman and Associates and Walmart. Special thanks to Fast Lane Entertainment Center for contributing the event venue and games, Walmart for generous logistical support and the photo booth and Funrise Toy Corporation for creating the bubble play area.




Left to Right: Jean Butler, Toy Industry Foundation Executive Director; Susan Schroeter, National CASA; Chris Moore, Owner Fast Lanes Entertainment

Left to Right: Jean Butler, Toy Industry Foundation Executive Director; Susan Schroeter, National CASA; Chris Moore, Owner Fast Lanes Entertainment

Left to Right: Larry Perkin, CASA Board Member; Crystal Vickmark, CASA Executive Director; Susan Schroeter, National CASA; Becky Anderson, VP HR Operations Walmart; Chris Sultemeier, EVP Walmart Logistic

Left to Right: Larry Perkin, CASA Board Member; Crystal Vickmark, CASA Executive Director; Susan Schroeter, National CASA; Becky Anderson, VP HR Operations Walmart; Chris Sultemeier, EVP Walmart Logistic

Pictured Left to Right: Benton County Judge Tom Smith; Marisa Medina - Toy Industry Foundation; Julie Lolley - CASA of NWA; Susan Schroete - National CASA; Jean Butler - Toy Industry Foundation; Chris Sultemeier

Left to Right: Benton County Judge Tom Smith; Marisa Medina – Toy Industry Foundation; Julie Lolley – CASA of NWA; Susan Schroete – National CASA; Jean Butler – Toy Industry Foundation; Chris Sultemeier


About Toy Industry Foundation (www.toyindustryfoundation.org) The Toy Industry Foundation (TIF) is a non-profit organization whose mission it is to bring joy, comfort, and learning to children in need through play. The Foundation currently fulfills its mission through core programs including The Toy Bank™ and grants to organizations whose missions are in line with that of the Toy Industry Foundation. The first industry-wide program of its kind, The Toy Bank receives donations of newly manufactured toys from members of the toy industry and distributes them through local charities to underserved, at-risk and homeless children throughout the United States and around the world.

About CASA of Northwest Arkansas and National CASA Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Northwest Arkansas is one of 951 CASA programs across the country recruiting and training volunteers to advocate for children who have been removed from their homes because of abuse or neglect. CASA volunteers speak up for the best interests of these children in court and in their community to ensure that each child has the opportunity to thrive by receiving needed services and assistance while helping to move the child towards a safe and permanent home. CASA volunteers also work to expand the child welfare community’s engagement with community service partners to strengthen Northwest Arkansas’ resources for families at risk. Last year, CASA volunteers at CASA of Northwest Arkansas provided support to help 450 children.

Contact Information:

Adrienne Appell Toy Industry Association 646.520.4863 aappell@toyassociation.org

Chris Guizlo National CASA Association 206.343.1543 guizlo@feareygroup.com

Julie Lolly CASA of NW Arkansas 479-725-2213 julie@ncacasa.org

Bank of America Presents a $3,000 Grant to CASA of Northwest Arkansas

CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) of Northwest Arkansas is pleased to be the recipient of a grant from The Bank of America Charitable Foundation, Inc. in the amount of $3,000 in support of the CASA mission of serving every abused and neglected child in NWA by 2020.

Each year, hundreds of children in Northwest Arkansas are abused or neglected. CASA of NWA trains and supports community volunteers who serve as Court Appointed Special Advocates for children in the foster care system, with the goal of moving each child to a safe, permanent home as quickly as possible.

CASA was presented a check on May 22nd at the Springdale Bank of America Banking Center. “Bank of America is lending, investing and giving in local communities like Northwest Arkansas in order to advance local economies and create positive change,” said Judy Butterweck, Bank of America Banking Center Manager at the Sunset West Banking Center. “Providing support to organizations like CASA of Northwest Arkansas Inc. is just one of the ways Bank of America is helping to improve the quality of life in our community.”



Contact Information:

Julie Lolley, Director of Development & Marketing CASA of Northwest Arkansas, 3825 Cawood Lane, Springdale AR 72762 Julie@nwacasa.org www.nwacasa.org

CASA of Northwest Arkansas recognizes volunteers at annual Celebration of Success.

CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) of Northwest Arkansas held it’s annual Celebration of Success Thursday, May 9th at St. Anthony’s on the Creek in Lowell. This celebration was to honor CASA’s outstanding volunteer advocates who speak for the best interests of abused and neglected children in court. The mission of CASA advocates is to find each child a safe, permanent, and nurturing home. CASA Advocate Supervisor Vicki Robinson presented the Outstanding Service Award stating, “It is always so difficult to choose one advocate or a team of advocates to receive special awards when there are so many worthy of recognition. For me it is particularly difficult since I have the privilege of working along side such wonderfully dedicated and devoted volunteers.” Robinson presented CASA’s Outstanding Service Award to Keely Meyer. “Tonight I want to honor one volunteer that spoke up for her child during the final court hearing which embodied the spirit CASA’s mission. She literally sat tall on the witness stand, endured a brutal cross examination by the parent’s counsel and then confidently was allowed to deliver her a prepared statement written to give this child a voice in court concerning her recommendation for this child’s future placement. I was humbled by her strength, inspired by her words and continue to have the honor of working along side her as she continues to boldly advocate for other children.” Awards were also given for years of service to each of the volunteers, and the following were special award recipients:

2013 CASA Volunteer of the Year – Janet Steencken 2013 Heart of CASA – Sidney Hewgley 2013 Board Member of the Year – Sylvia Norris 2013 Foster Parents of the Year – James & Belinda Root 2013 DCFS Friend of CASA – Ryan Blue 2013 Dynamic Duo – Jim & Jerre Carter 2013 Dynamic Duo – Dale Ensinger and Geri Festul

Distinguished Community Member Celebrates 10 Years of Service at CASA of Northwest Arkansas

Springdale, AR – CASA of Northwest Arkansas is honored to recognize Susan Duke as a dedicated CASA volunteer advocate for the past ten years. Susan is a well respected member of our community and is instrumental in increasing awareness of CASA in our area. She plays a major role in recruiting volunteers and securing donations for our annual Christmas for a Child party for children in foster care. As a former foster parent herself, Susan understands how the system works and the vitality of CASA’s mission.

Susan has served a number of foster children in Benton County, but one case that truly stands out is one to which she has been assigned since November 2001. Throughout this nine year case, Susan has played a vital role in the development of the child. Through regular visits and uncovering lost family members, Susan has created a close relationship and will forever be seen as a role model in this foster child’s eyes.

When asked, “Why be a CASA?” Susan responds, “When a child is not receiving the care and security they need and deserve, a CASA stands in the gap and advocates for that child and their needs. It is a privilege to act on behalf of a child!”

Crystal Vickmark, Executive Director, describes Susan’s involvement by saying, “Susan has played an instrumental role in the growth of our program over the last ten years. She is a passionate advocate for children and has recruited several new volunteers who have mirrored her passion as well. What I find amazing is that Susan has remained the advocate for one of her CASA children for nearly nine years. The goal of our program is to advocate for a child until they are placed in a safe, permanent home. Since Susan’s CASA child is still in foster care, Susan remains her advocate. When the system and her family failed this child, Susan remains.”

CASA of NWA, Inc. is a 501(c) 3 non-profit organization located in Springdale and is committed to recruiting and maintaining diverse volunteers, staff, and board of directors. CASA volunteers are trained, court-appointed special advocates whose sole responsibility is to make contact with everyone involved in the child’s life and gather the facts. The advocate reports the facts to the judge and recommend what they believe to be in the best interests of the child. In most cases the CASA is the bridge between all parties, and they become a constant presence in a child’s life; a child who may have been introduced to multiple case workers and foster homes. For more information please contact CASA of NWA, Inc. at 479-725-2213 or online at www.nwacasa.org

CASA Recognizes Long-Standing Advocate

As CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) of Northwest Arkansas marks its 13th year serving abused and neglected children in foster care, we look to recognize volunteer child advocates who have been with the organization almost since our doors opened. One such advocate is Janet Poole, who has been with CASA for ten plus years, advocating for more than 20 children during that time.

Janet, with two adopted children of her own, was always grateful that her children were blessed with happy, secure and safe childhoods. She knew that not all children were so blessed, and wanted to help some of those children have the same opportunities. Janet looked to CASA as a way to fulfill that mission.

Janet’s first case involved three children under the age of four, who eventually were successfully reunited with their mother. This mother had been a drug addict for ten years, and was in prison for a good deal of the time that her case was open. Janet worked with the parole office to help develop a parole plan that would help and encourage the mother to stay off drugs and leave her “old” life behind, to the benefit of her children. Janet found a facility that accepted mothers and children who were in similar circumstances, and was instrumental in arranging for the mother to stay there. Janet continued to work to help this mother become stable. She encouraged the woman to get back in touch with her mother, which she did, and re-established that bond.

A CASA works in the best interests of the child, or children, on a case, but also works to encourage and support parents if they are making an honest effort to correct the reasons their children came into foster care. Sometimes this can be accomplished, and that, as Janet will attest, is always a welcome outcome.

Janet says “I’ve had a lot of frustrations along the way, but I always remind myself I’m doing this for the children, that I’m there for that goal. Children in foster care situations are something the public does not really know about, or realize the enormity of the problem of abuse and neglect. Casa is one ray of sunshine, and makes a big difference in these cases.”

To learn more about CASA of Northwest Arkansas, and how you can help, please visit our Website at www.nwacasa.org or call the office at (479) 725-2213