SAN DIEGO – For many people, the holiday season is full of excitement, celebration, family, warmth and community. Voices for Children urged the community to support children in foster care in their community who are spending the holidays away from those they love and consider how each person can make a difference. Voices for Children recruits and trains caring volunteers, known as Court Appointed Special Advocates, to provide supportive services for youth in foster care and advocate for their needs.
“Sadly, for the children we serve, the holidays can evoke complicated feelings and memories. This is where CASA volunteers can step in and make an impact by giving our community’s children moments of joy,” Jessica Muñoz, president and CEO at Voices for Children, said.
When a family is in crisis that creates an unsafe situation, children are often removed from their homes and placed in foster care, far from everyone and everything they know. This holiday season, some of these children are spending the season in emergency shelters, group homes or residential treatment centers. Those who are living with relatives or foster families over the holidays are still missing their homes and can feel sadness or loneliness during this time of year.
Appointed by a judge, a CASA volunteer’s priority is to advocate for what families need to stay together whenever safe and possible. When it is not possible, they can recommend that children live with another relative or close family friend to ensure that they can maintain connections to their family and community.
Take this true story for an example of the impact of CASA volunteers. Brothers Luis and Sean abruptly entered foster care in 2000 when they were 7 and 5 years old. Feeling lost and angry, the boys would go on to live in 11 different placements.
Things began to change, however, when they were matched with CASA Art Tabanao.
“CASA Art was the first true male role model that we had, advocating for us, making sure we were OK. That’s all we wanted: someone that was going to support us,” Luis said.
Experiences like these are why CASA volunteers are so imperative in the lives of children and families in the child welfare system. They need someone who can get to know them and their unique situation, advocate for them and help ensure they are surrounded by caring people who will support them even after their case ends.
According to the San Diego County Department of Health and Human Services, in the fiscal year 2022-2023, an average of 563 new child welfare cases were opened each month in San Diego alone, out of 791,797 children in our community. In the fiscal year 2021-2022 in Riverside County, 7,241 children were served.
This past year, over 1,300 CASAs and Voices for Children staff supported more than 2,300 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. Voices for Children is inviting more community members to become a part of the solution by becoming a CASA volunteer.
CASA volunteers get to know a child or sibling group on an individual level and speak with other important people in the child’s life, such as their parents and family, teachers, therapists, foster parents and more.
With the information they gather, they develop a holistic understanding of their circumstances and needs and make recommendations to the court. They advocate first for family reunification whenever safe and possible. They also help find and engage family members and other adults who can serve as a network of support for the child and their parent or parents.
Consider becoming a CASA volunteer to look out for a child and give them and their family a better chance at a brighter future – and the happy holiday season they deserve. To learn more and sign up for an information session, visit https://speakupnow.org.
Submitted by Voices for Children.