In 1980, Kathryn F. Ashworth, Esq., and Elizabeth Brainard Bacon discovered a recently developed, volunteer-based model of supporting children in foster care and, using that framework, co-founded Voices for Children (VFC). With the start of a new fiscal year this month, we are now celebrating 40 years of service to children in San Diego County and five years of service to children in Riverside County.
Ashworth and Bacon’s pioneering efforts laid the groundwork for four decades of advocacy, innovation, and, above all, commitment to serving children who have been abused and neglected.
As a law student in 1980, Kathryn Ashworth had always held an active role in serving her community. Having volunteered with the Junior League, Ashworth became aware of the critical need for increased child abuse prevention and child advocacy in San Diego County. The more she learned, she began to wonder about what improvements could be made to the foster care system to better serve these vulnerable children.
Through her studies on child development, Ashworth came across a project conducted by the National Council of Juvenile Court Judges. This project, which utilized volunteers to review specific case files of children in foster care, motivated Ashworth to launch a similar program in San Diego County. With the support of the Presiding Judge and a sum of $5,000 from the San Diego Bar Association, Ashworth teamed up with a friend and social worker, the late Elizabeth Brainard Bacon. Together, they set up a desk in the hallway of the Juvenile Court and recruited friends and Junior League members to volunteer. This was the beginning of Voices for Children.
In 1983, while attending a meeting of Juvenile Court Supervising Judges in California, Ashworth learned of the Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program model. This format utilized trained and supervised volunteers, known as CASAs, who were paired with a specific foster child or sibling set. This volunteer role was unique in that the CASA would remain with that child throughout their time in the dependency system. Further, a CASA volunteer could provide much-needed resources and support to the child in areas such as education, healthcare, and even personal development, by advocating directly to the judge who was making decisions for that child’s future.
Ashworth and Bacon brought this new CASA model to San Diego County and, that same year, Ashworth graduated with the first training class of Voices for Children CASAs. From there, the team continued to recruit, train, and support volunteers in lending advocacy to local foster youth.
In 2006, we adopted a strategic vision to “Serve Every Child.” At the time, we were serving only 12% of the foster children in San Diego County, but our Board of Directors was determined to provide the vital advocacy of a CASA to every child who needed one. The Board believed so strongly in the power of a CASA to positively impact a child’s life that we adopted this vision and remained committed to its fruition throughout the 2010s. Now, in 2020, our staff and volunteers are serving all of the children in San Diego County foster care through a range of case assessment, case monitoring, and advocacy services.
In order to help achieve the vision to Serve Every Child, we created a new staff position called a Case Liaison. Stationed in every courtroom, Case Liaisons are present for hearings in every case that comes before San Diego’s dependency court. Case Liaisons capture real-time information about the complexity and severity of each child’s situation, complete a thorough needs assessment, and provide our matching team with background to help assign each child to the best CASA for their needs as rapidly as possible. On less urgent cases and when a CASA is not readily available, Case Liaisons themselves will serve as advocates for children
Expansion to Riverside County
In early 2015, Voices for Children was approached by the local bench to rebuild the CASA program in Riverside County. In June 2015, the Riverside County CASA program was launched. After five years of service, the Riverside County program advocated on behalf of 434 children last year, has field offices in the cities of Riverside, Murrieta, and Palm Desert, and is one of the fastest-growing CASA programs in the state. Voices for Children is grateful for the support that the Riverside County CASA program has received from local child welfare stakeholders, community leaders, and donors.
With both San Diego and Riverside Counties under its purview, Voices for Children has the opportunity to provide CASAs to 13% of all foster youth in California.
Juvenile Justice Program
In 2015, the California legislature enacted laws permitting CASA advocacy for justice-involved youth. Understanding that youth living in foster care and youth involved in the juvenile justice system share many of the same needs, we applied for and received funding to begin providing CASA advocacy to these youth. Since launching in 2017, the program has served 108 youth and has become the largest juvenile justice CASA program in the nation.
Be a Part of VFC’s Legacy of Service
As one of nearly 1,000 certified state and local CASA programs across the nation, Voices for Children remains firm in its mission of improving the lives of abused, abandoned, and neglected children. The vision to provide a CASA volunteer to every vulnerable child who needs one continues to move this organization forward.
Join thousands of caring individuals in San Diego and Riverside Counties by becoming a CASA volunteer. With your impact, a child who has experienced abuse, neglect, or abandonment can receive vital support and resources that will make all the difference in their lives.
You can also provide the unparalleled advocacy of a CASA volunteer by making a special donation in honor of VFC’s 40th anniversary. Give today to show your support for abused and neglected children in our community.