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It's Back-to-School Season:

Make an impact for local children living in foster care

SAN DIEGO – The back-to-school season can be an exciting time for children as they prepare to see their classmates again, meet their teachers, and explore new subjects. For youth in foster care, however, starting a new school year can sometimes feel scary and challenging because they tend to face uncertainty and instability, often feeling unprepared for returning to school. Many frequently change homes and schools and lack role models that are equipped to help them navigate their academic life.

Children in foster care are also more likely to qualify for special education services or disability accommodations than their typically situated peers. According to the National Foster Youth Institute, only 50% of youth in foster care finish high school nationally, and high school dropout rates are three times higher for foster youth than other at-risk children.

For children grappling with the trauma of being removed from their homes and facing a school change due to a move or new placement, the work of a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer can be a vital lifeline.

Voices for Children recruits and trains caring volunteers, known as Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs), to provide supportive services for youth in foster care, and they need more advocates, especially male and bilingual volunteers.

The organization advocates for nearly 2,300 youth in foster care between San Diego and Riverside counties, yet new children come into foster care every day. As children in foster care return to school, having a consistent adult to advocate for their best interests as a CASA is more crucial than ever.

Youth in foster care need supportive adults to help them achieve their educational goals, and CASA volunteers are uniquely positioned to do just that. When paired with a CASA, children are more likely to perform well academically and behaviorally in school and receive needed resources.

CASAs attend school meetings, facilitate participation in extracurricular activities, and advocate for children to receive tutoring, special education services if needed, and support for other unmet needs such as access to required technologies. Many CASAs hold educational rights for their assigned child, which means they serve as the point-person for the youth's academic needs.

With support and guidance from Voices for Children, CASA volunteers form partnerships with teachers, school administrators, and social workers to better understand the child’s specific needs, strengths, and challenges. These interactions and the volunteer’s relationship with the child empower them to advocate in court for what the child needs to thrive academically. Our goal is to not only advocate in court but also in the classroom.

Gwen Schvimmer has been a CASA for over six years, serving as an educational advocate for two children in foster care in San Diego. She led the effort to get her first assigned youth the services needed to have healthcare providers evaluate the child’s developmental history. This immediately improved his behavior at school and opened the door for him to obtain lifelong services in San Diego.

With her second case child, Schvimmer channeled her creative passions through art to build her self-esteem and improve her overall school experience. Schvimmer used her youth's interest in art as a constructive outlet that sparked her imagination and developed her ability to express herself positively.

She said, “CASAs are a beacon of hope for children in foster care, especially in the classroom where our advocacy sets them up for success. The impact has been there with my youth, but its profound impact on the volunteer makes being a CASA truly rewarding.”

If anyone wants to support the children and youth Voices for Children serves as they navigate the new school year, they are invited to:

1. Volunteer: Serving as a CASA volunteer can be a rewarding way to give back to the community and help foster youth to succeed in school and life. Sign up for a volunteer information session at https://www.speakupnow.org.

2. Spread the Word: VFC is always looking for potential CASA volunteers. Book a speaker for an organization or display the volunteer drive flier in the breakroom. Recommend a CASA at https://www.speakupnow.org/recommend/.

3. Donate Funds: As a nonprofit organization, VFC raises every dollar needed to train and support CASA volunteers for children in the foster care system. A gift can help change a life.

4. Make a referral: Anyone in a child’s life can make a referral for a CASA volunteer. Anyone who is an educator working with a child in foster care in need of additional advocacy can call 858-569-2019 in San Diego County or 951-472-9301 in Riverside County for assistance.

For more information, visit https://www.speakupnow.org.

Submitted by Voices for Children.

 

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