03/24/2011 04:34 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Fulfilling Our Fundamental Obligation

During the last few days, I've been energized and inspired by the advocates attending the annual conference of National CASA Association, the nonprofit I lead. Each year we host a conference to expand our knowledge, exchange best practices, and celebrate the many achievements of the 70,000 CASA and guardian ad litem volunteers nationwide who are committed to helping abused and neglected children find safe and permanent homes.

This year was our largest conference ever -- more than 1,500 volunteers, staff, representatives from government and the juvenile courts, and others, came fully committed to securing the safety and well-being of children removed from their homes as the result of abuse and neglect. We recognized several outstanding individuals including Judge Glenda Hatchett, a longtime activist and spokesperson for our cause, and Frank West, a Wal-Mart employee from Marion, Indiana who was honored as our Volunteer of the Year. Joining Glenda for the first time as spokespeople for us were R&B star Anthony Hamilton and country singer Jimmy Wayne. All are examples of the many compassionate and dedicated individuals who are committed to CASA's mission of providing trained adult volunteers to represent the best interests of abused and neglected children in the state system.

As is the case every year, celebration mingled with concern. The unwelcome truth is that, despite all the hard work by compassionate people with good intentions, child welfare systems still produce too many poor outcomes. How else could it be that one of four youths leaving foster care will become homeless? Or that as many as 30 percent of children in foster care could have stayed at home if their families had safe, affordable housing? Or that on average a child in foster will be shuffled among more than seven schools?

We believe it is a fundamental obligation of civil society to change these injustices. As a nation, we face a crucial question: what is the price we are prepared to put on a healthy and productive future for our children and their children?

As I shared in my address to the conference, there is no better investment we can make than in the young people in our foster care system. There is no airplane, no gun, no tax cut, no bailout that is more important than the future of these children. Consider the fact that every teenager we lose to a life of crime costs us $2.4-4 million dollars and it's easy to see that there is no better way to reduce the cost of government than by stopping the maltreatment now and for generations to come.

As Roy Sesana, a Bushman activist, stated so eloquently,

"We are the ancestors of our grandchildren's children. We look after them, just as our ancestors look after us. We aren't here for ourselves. We are here for each other and for the children of our grandchildren."

The time has come for us to honor our society's most fundamental obligation and to ensure the right of every child -- even those who enter foster care due to abuse and neglect -- to be safe, to be treated with dignity and respect, and to learn and to grow in the embrace of a loving family.