“Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.” – Helen Keller
Children in foster care have experienced debilitating neglect and unimaginable abuse, which resulted in removal from their homes and everything that was familiar to them. Once in foster care, multiple school changes may prevent a child from keeping up academically with their peers; the lack of a consistent, supportive adult may make it difficult for a youth to later transition into adulthood; and health challenges brought on by trauma may make it challenging for a youth to productively support themselves.
These unique challenges result in alarming statistics. According to the Child Welfare League(1), 25% of teenagers formerly in foster care will experience homelessness at least once in their lives. The National CASA Association(2) shares that only about 50% of foster youth will graduate high school or receive a GED. Even less, about 15%, will go on to college, with 3% eventually completing their college degree according to the US Department of Health and Human Services(3).
While these outcomes are dire, Voices for Children strives to combat them by pairing every youth in need with a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer. These caring individuals serve one child or sibling set at a time to ensure that each child is met with consistency, care, encouragement, and support. CASAs advocate for their case children by providing educational, medical, and personal support at school, home, in the courtroom, or anywhere else the child may need to be heard. At Voices for Children, we have seen time after time, case after case, the difference one caring adult can make on a child’s future.
We’d like to share the encouraging stories of four resilient individuals who have not let the statistics define them.
Special Opportunity to Hear Directly from Former Foster Youth
To hear directly from these youth, sign up for our upcoming Real Word Reunion Speakers Panel to hear them share their personal experiences in foster care. This virtual event will take place on November 17, 2020, from 5:00-6:15 PM, and is free and open to the public, though not appropriate for children. For more details or to RSVP, visit the event page here.
Suamhirs entered foster care as a teenager after a turbulent childhood including physical abuse and human trafficking. Suamhirs met his CASA, Marco, as he was turning 18 years old. At this pivotal time in his life, he needed support in completing his GED, along with guidance and mentorship as he was preparing to transition out of foster care into adulthood.
As a survivor of sex trafficking, Suamhirs became an expert in behavioral health and served on or consulted for a number of highly regarded committees, including the Department of Justice Office for Victims of Crime, the Department of Health and Human Services, the International Association of Human Trafficking Investigators, and the National Council for Community Behavioral Health. Most notably, he was appointed by President Barack Obama to serve on the US Advisory Council on Human Trafficking. During summer of 2020, Suamhirs was also appointed by the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Antonio Guterres as the Chair of the Board of Trustees of the UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Human Trafficking and as Member of the Board of Trustees of the UN Fund for Victims of Torture.
Today, Suamhirs works as the Partnerships and budget manager at the Mental Illness and Drug Dependency Unit at the King County Department of Community and Human Services. In addition to his impressive career, Suamhirs is a husband and father. Says Suamhirs of his CASA; “One person planted a seed and said, ‘You’re going to become someone great.’ […] My CASA taught me to be strong, [and] to not let my past define me.”
Joseph entered foster care as a young child, and spent more than 15 years in the dependency system. At the age of 11, Voices for Children paired him with his CASA. Statistically, the chances of Joseph graduating high school and attending college were low, but thanks to the advocacy and support of his CASA, Joseph found the motivation to persevere despite the odds.
After completing high school, Joseph was one of the 15 percent of nationwide youth in foster care to continue on to college. He studied at Grossmont and San Diego Community Colleges and today works full-time as a Manufacturing Supervisor for CoreSystems, a computer company based in Poway. At home, Joseph is a loving single father to a bubbly 3-year old and remains friends with his CASA to this day.
Christine Alford was born and raised in San Diego, California. At the age of 14 she entered foster care due to the trauma and dysfunction of her family. She received a CASA, also named Christine, through Voices for Children at the age of 16. Christine and her CASA overcame many challenges and obstacles during their two years together. Despite not graduating from high school, Christine received the support and stability from her CASA that she needed to prepare herself for adulthood.
Christine now resides in Denver, Colorado, where she is a wife to her incredibly supportive and loving husband, Terence. She is a mother to four young men, one of which she adopted in 2019. She is a community champion, advocate, and Executive Director of the nonprofit Denver Food Rescue, whose mission is to produce health equity with Denver’s neighborhoods. She finds purpose in continuing to utilize her voice to uplift the experiences of others facing unjust and systemic inequities that are often silenced and oppressed.
Candace and her four brothers entered foster care when Candace was 11. While all the siblings entered the system at the same time, they were separated into different placements. Candace herself bounced from placement to placement, totaling four foster homes and three group homes over the course of seven years. This level of inconsistency and frequent movement is overwhelming for any child to bear, and with the added stress of not seeing her brothers, Candace was in dire need of support.
Luckily, Voices for Children paired CASA Genevieve with Candace and her brothers. Genevieve stepped right in to ensure that the children were able to see each other and maintain that family bond despite living separately. Says Candace of her CASA, “She has been everything to our family and continues to be to this day.”
Today, Candace is a mother to a baby girl and is in nursing school working towards her degree. Her husband, Joe, is in the Navy and the family is stationed in Hawaii. She still keeps in contact with her CASA and continues to thrive thanks to that support system.
Help our youth continue to beat the statistics
Like the CASAs mentioned in these stories, you too can provide life-changing advocacy to a youth in foster care. To learn how you can make an impact as a CASA volunteer in San Diego or Riverside Counties, sign up for an online Volunteer Information Session today.
Hear more from these Real Word panel alumni at our upcoming Real Word Reunion Speakers Panel on Tuesday, November 17. Moderated by Emmy-winning journalist Carlos Watson, this once-in-a-lifetime presentation will humble, uplift, and inspire you. Our panelists are eager to share their firsthand experiences in foster care with you. Register today.
1. Child Welfare League of America: www.cwla.org
2. National Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Association: www.casaforchildren.org
3. U.S Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Child Welfare: www.childwelfare.gov