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National Make A Difference To Children Month: The benefit of working with youth in foster care goes both ways

SAN DIEGO – July is National Make a Difference to Children Month, and there are volunteers who take time to support local children living in foster care – Court Appointed Special Advocate volunteers, also known as CASAs.

These special volunteers are supported by Voices for Children, the only local nonprofit organization certified by the courts in San Diego and Riverside counties, to recruit and train CASA volunteers.

When community members become CASAs, they help vulnerable children living in foster care cope with many challenges. These advocates ensure the children they serve are safe, and their needs are met while they navigate living in foster care. What they don’t expect is how much they will gain from the experience.

CASA volunteers are often the only stable, trusted adult in the life of a child in foster care, someone who will speak up for them – in court, in school and in the community – to make sure their voice is heard and advocate for their best interests. From monitoring a child’s progress in school to ensuring they have glasses to providing written reports at court hearings and collaborating with the child, family members, and all the professionals in the child’s life, a CASA connects the puzzle pieces of an intricate child welfare system.

“I observed firsthand the impact that CASAs have on their case children,” Susan D. Huguenor, a retired juvenile court judge who serves on Voices for Children’s board of directors, said. “CASAs are confidants and advocates for the kids, enabling judges to see and understand the youths they preside over. CASAs truly change lives.”

Volunteers sign up to make a difference in a child’s life but said they are affected in meaningful ways they never imagined.

José Contreras has been a CASA volunteer for five years, helping San Diego youth in foster care feel seen and heard.

“You definitely get more out of being a CASA than you’ll put into it,” Contreras said. “In my case, I’ve learned to be humble about the situations people are in. I’m more careful about prejudging people because you never know where they came from or what they’ve been through.”

One of his most impactful moments was visiting his case child after a successful reunification with his family.

“Seeing the entire sibling group back together was incredibly rewarding,” Contreras said. “The child appreciates everything I do for him, and the mother appreciates that I have been a positive male role model in his life. I feel honored to help guide children’s futures.”

Each CASA volunteer undergoes extensive background checks, makes an 18-month minimum commitment to the program and completes a 35-hour training program focused on all aspects of a child’s well-being and development.

“We train and support CASA volunteers so they have the skills, knowledge, and preparation necessary to advocate for their assigned children,” Jessica Muñoz, president and CEO of Voices for Children, said. “Time and again volunteers share with us how they are changed and inspired by the resilience they witness in the children they serve.”

This past year, over 1,300 CASAs and Voices for Children staff supported more than 3,400 youth in foster youth between San Diego and Riverside counties. But more children come into care across the region and need a CASA every day. To learn more about becoming a CASA or donating to the program, visit

Submitted by Voices for Children.


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