Make an impact for local children living in foster care
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 percent 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 we need more advocates, especially male and bilingual volunteers. The organization advocates for nearly 2,300 youth in foster care between San Diego & 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, CASA Gwen channeled her creative passions through art to build her self-esteem and improve her overall school experience. CASA Gwen used her youth’s interest in art as a constructive outlet that sparked her imagination and developed her ability to express herself positively.
She shares, “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.”
CASA Nancy Olsen became a CASA in 2022, advocating for her case youth struggling in school and in a new foster home in Riverside County. Holding educational rights as a CASA, Nancy has focused on motivating her case youth, as she is a bright girl who performs excellently in her classes when she tries. CASA Nancy has also worked hand in hand with her school counselor and therapist, ensuring she has access to additional accommodations to reduce her anxiety and help her focus in a learning environment. Together, they identified a certified therapist specializing in eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) psychotherapy for her mental health. They are also looking to have her participate in the Transitional Age Youth (TAY) Program. As the new school year begins, CASA Nancy is working to ensure her case youth has the individualized support she needs to thrive academically.
“As a CASA with educational rights, I [do] not leave any stone unturned to try to find answers for my case child and help [her] succeed,” Nancy said.
If you want to support the children and youth we serve as they navigate the new school year, Voices for Children invites you to:
- Volunteer: Serving as a CASA volunteer can be a rewarding way to give back to the community and help foster youth succeed in school and life. Sign up for a volunteer information session at speakupnow.org/volunteer.
- Spread the Word: VFC is always looking for potential CASA volunteers. Book a speaker at your organization or display our volunteer drive flier in your breakroom. You can also Recommend a CASA here.
- Donate Funds: As a nonprofit organization, VFC raises every dollar needed to train and support CASA volunteers for children in the foster care system. Your gift can help change a life.
- Make a referral: Anyone in a child’s life can make a referral for a CASA volunteer. If you are an educator working with a child in foster care in need of additional advocacy, call (858) 569-2019 in San Diego County or (951) 472-9301 in Riverside County for assistance.
For more information, visit speakupnow.org.
Founded in 1980, Voices for Children (VFC) transforms the lives of abused, neglected, and abandoned children in foster care in San Diego and Riverside Counties by providing them with trained, volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs). CASA volunteers advocate for a child or sibling group in foster care in court, school, and the community to ensure their needs are met. VFC believes every child deserves a safe and permanent home and strives to provide a CASA volunteer to every child in the foster care system who needs one. Last year, VFC CASAs and staff provided direct advocacy to nearly 2,300 youth in foster care across San Diego and Riverside Counties as well as case monitoring services to hundreds of other children in foster care who might need an advocate in the future. For more information, visit speakupnow.org.