From the first day of kindergarten to college graduation and beyond, our culture places a high value on education. College applications and resumes continue to grow with degrees, certifications, and extracurricular activities or community engagement. It is a competitive environment for today’s youth.
Sadly, for those who have spent time in foster care, the trauma and instability they experienced can last a lifetime. These youth are at a higher risk of dropping out of high school, and only 50% graduate from high school. In the years following, only 15% go on to attend college and fewer than 3% earn a college degree.
However, with a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) by their side, foster youth are more likely to pass all school courses and are significantly less likely to be expelled. In addition, CASAs can be instrumental in advocating for a child’s education, including holding education rights, assisting with the implementation of Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), or providing support and resources during the college application process.
After graduating from high school this past spring, Kristina, a youth from San Diego County, decided to further her education by attending Fullerton College.
Kristina first entered the foster care system at the age of 3. She was in and out of foster care until the age of 13, when she entered the system one final time. Now 18, she has been in foster care ever since. Before attending San Pasqual Academy (SPA), a residential high school education campus for teens in foster care in North County San Diego, Kristina had been placed in three different foster homes.
Kristina was matched with a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) through Voices for Children’s CASA program when she was 13 years old. At first, she thought this was a person who would temporarily be here to spend time with her. She recalled meeting her CASA, Kim, for the first time five years ago, “She just walked in and introduced herself as my CASA. I didn’t say anything to her. When she came back a few days later I thought, ‘Wow, this is someone who is going to come back.’”
Soon after, Kim began holding Kristina’s education rights. When a child or youth is a dependent of the court, the judge can appoint an adult other than the child’s biological parent to serve as the education rights holder, giving them the authority and responsibility to make decisions and be involved in the child’s education and developmental services.
“Kim pushed me through high school, to apply for scholarships, and continue my education through college. She pushed me to pursue something bigger than where I was,” Kristina shared. And she did just that. Kristina graduated from high school in 2019 and began attending Fullerton College during fall of the same year.
When Kristina reflected back on how it felt to graduate high school, she recalled how relieved and excited she was. “A lot of people doubted my success and said I wouldn’t graduate, but to be able to push through and graduate was an accomplishment,” she shared.
Even when Kristina’s CASA had to move to Arizona, she continued to make regular visits to California to support her. “She helped me with mental stability. She made the commute when she didn’t have to and has been a positive role model to me.”
Once finished with her general education in Fullerton, Kristina plans to attend a four-year university. Though she’s not yet sure what she wants to major in, she wants to keep an open mind and focus on the goals she’s set for herself.
Kristina’s college experience has not come without its own set of challenges. She is receiving tutoring and taking advantage of her professor’s open office hours. She added, “You can’t fully prepare for college; you just have to go in and give it your all and see where it takes you.” Despite academic hurdles, Kristina loves her classes and is enjoying her learning experience.
When asked if she’d like to share some words with those considering becoming a CASA, Kristina shared, “Be consistent. Know that you can’t expect a child to fully open up to you but trust can be earned. Keep an open mind and an open heart.”
For more information on how you can make a difference in the life of a foster youth like Kristina by becoming a CASA volunteer, please visit our volunteer page.