March 27, 2023
Recognizing women’s leadership – Carmen Ray-Bettineski, the founding executive director of the National Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Association
During Women’s History Month, we recognize the contributions of women who have dedicated their lives to serving their communities and advocating for those in need. One such woman is Carmen Ray-Bettineski, founder of the King County Dependency CASA Program – our network’s inaugural program – and the founding executive director of the National Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Association.
Carmen Ray-Bettineski was a trailblazing social worker, whose work revolutionized the approach to child welfare and paved the way for women in leadership roles. In 1976, Ray-Bettineski was working as a private practitioner focusing on parent-family relationships and consulting for non-profit organizations. She was approached by Judge David Soukup, who had an idea to create a court-appointed advocate system for children. Ray-Bettineski eagerly accepted the challenge and wrote up a proposal for the volunteer advocate model, which is still in place today. The first CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) volunteer appeared in court in January 1977, and from there, the program rapidly expanded.
Ray-Bettineski’s involvement in the CASA program grew, and she was recruited by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) to serve on their Permanency Planning Committee and speak to judges across the nation about starting CASA programs in their courts. The NCJFCJ played a significant role in getting the CASA program started, and the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation helped to organize a conference for programs that were just starting. Judge John F. Mendoza, Clark County District Court, and a member of the committee, came up with the acronym CASA, and Ray-Bettineski was the founding executive director of the National CASA Association, which was established in 1984.
Under Ray-Bettineski’s leadership, National CASA became a special project of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) and received funding from the Department of Health and Human Services, the National Council of Jewish Women, and the National Junior League. Ray-Bettineski stayed with National CASA until 1986, after which she stepped down to be a stay-at-home mom with her son Merritt. She passed away in 2012.