Thursday, Mar 8, 2018
Nora Manchester doesn’t take ‘no’ for an answer, and that’s a good thing. Thanks to her perseverance and hard work, children in the Santa Clara County Dependency system who have experienced abuse or neglect have hope in the form of a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA).
Thirty-seven years ago, when she was a Santa Clara County social worker, Nora noticed that many of the children of her probation clients were experiencing abuse and neglect, yet their needs were not being addressed.
Through her research to improve outcomes for foster youth, Nora learned of a new grassroots movement called CASA to help children in foster care. However, those involved in the dependency system at that time were opposed to implementing the CASA model in Santa Clara County.
“Many people didn’t think a volunteer could help these vulnerable foster children, but I thought just the opposite,” Nora explains. “CASA volunteers are giving of themselves. Each CASA really cares about a child but does not receive any economic gain from that caring.”
Not one to be deterred, Nora pursued the idea over the next two years, visiting CASA programs throughout the state and holding interest group meetings trying to gain support for starting a program.
In 1983, she joined the newly formed State CASA Association and helped write legislation to institutionalize the role of the “Guardian ad Lietem” statewide. This legislation enabled judges to appoint volunteer advocates to represent the interest of a child in court – a revolutionary idea, and a major victory for the state. But Santa Clara County still resisted.
In 1986, Nora teamed up with Dependency Court Judge Leonard Edwards, who had recently heard about the tremendous impact newly forming CASA programs were having on permanency outcomes for foster children across the country. Together they worked tirelessly to convince the local judges, social workers and other stakeholders that the CASA model could work in Santa Clara County.
In 1986, Nora opened Santa Clara County’s CASA program and served as Child Advocates’ first Executive Director for 12 years. In less than one year, there were nearly 100 trained CASAs serving foster children in the county.
“In the beginning, we fought to help children, but along the way, we realized that not only were the children’s lives changed but the advocates’ lives were changed,” Nora explains.
CASAs work one-on-one with foster children, ensuring that each child’s critical and emotional needs are met and their voice heard while navigating the dependency system. CASAs also help foster children become more resilient.
“Studies have shown if you have just one person who cares about you, mentors you and promotes you, you can make it in life,” Nora explains.
During her years in service, Nora served on the Child Abuse Council for over 30 years. She was President of the State CASA Association and was a Board member of California Children’s Lobby and Children’s Research Institute of California. Currently, Nora is Manager of the Myra Reinhard Family Foundation.
“I’m very happy for Child Advocates,” Nora says. “The CASA program became so much more than just one person helping a child. It has had a profound impact on our advocates, our staff and our community. It’s really transformed lives.”