Youth aren’t the only ones whose lives are changed by caring volunteers. Volunteers are also richly rewarded.
This month is National Make a Difference to Children Month, and there is a group of exceptional volunteers taking time to selflessly support local children living in foster care — Court Appointed Special Advocate volunteers (also known as CASAs). These special volunteers are supported by Voices for Children, the only local nonprofit organization certified by the courts in San Diego and Riverside Counties, to recruit and train CASA volunteers.
When community members become CASAs, they help vulnerable children living in foster care cope with unimaginable challenges. These advocates ensure the children they serve are safe, and their needs are met while they navigate living in foster care. What they don’t expect is how much they will gain from the experience.
CASA volunteers are often the only stable, trusted adult in the life of a child in foster care, someone who will speak up for them — in court, in school, and in the community — to make sure their voice is heard and advocate for their best interests. From monitoring a child’s progress in school to ensuring they have glasses to providing written reports at court hearings and collaborating with the child, family members, and all the professionals in the child’s life, a CASA connects the puzzle pieces of an intricate child welfare system.
The Honorable Susan D. Huguenor, a retired juvenile court judge serving on Voices for Children’s board of directors, said, “I observed firsthand the impact that CASAs have on their case children. CASAs are confidants and advocates for the kids, enabling judges to see and understand the youths they preside over. CASAs truly change lives.”
Volunteers sign up to make a difference in a child’s life but say they are affected in meaningful ways they never imagined.
José Contreras has been a CASA volunteer for five years, helping San Diego youth in foster care feel seen and heard. In his words, “You definitely get more out of being a CASA than you’ll put into it. In my case, I’ve learned to be humble about the situations people are in. I’m more careful about prejudging people because you never know where they came from or what they’ve been through.” One of José’s most impactful moments was visiting his case child after a successful reunification with his family. “Seeing the entire sibling group back together was incredibly rewarding,” José said. “The child appreciates everything I do for him, and the mother appreciates that I have been a positive male role model in his life. I feel honored to help guide children’s futures.”
Mariana Robles became a CASA last year and has already tremendously impacted the lives of three siblings in Riverside County foster care. Mariana was matched with the three siblings after graduating from Advocate University, Voices for Children’s (VFC) intensive training course for new volunteers. Besides planning fun and individualized visits to her case youths’ foster home, Mariana also observes a parental visit once a month as their family works toward reunification. Recently, Mariana offered to take a second case and was assigned to an 11-year-old boy. The youth’s caregiver only speaks Spanish, and Mariana is fluent. She shares, “My favorite thing about being a CASA is spending time with my case kids. They are amazing! I love chatting with them. They may be smart, funny, serious, and moving at different times, but they are always interesting. After each outing, I enjoy thinking about their reaction to that experience and planning our next adventure or activity. It is a privilege to have the opportunity to spend time with them.”
Each CASA volunteer undergoes extensive background checks, makes an 18-month minimum commitment to the program, and completes a 35-hour training program focused on all aspects of a child’s well-being and development.
“We train and support CASA volunteers so they have the skills, knowledge, and preparation necessary to advocate for their assigned children,” said Jessica Muñoz, Esq., MFS, President & CEO at Voices for Children. “Time and again volunteers share with us how they are changed and inspired by the resilience they witness in the children they serve.”
This past year, over 1,300 CASAs and Voices for Children staff supported more than 3,400 youth in foster youth between San Diego & Riverside Counties. But more children come into care across the region and need a CASA every day. To learn more about becoming a CASA or donating to the program, visit speakupnow.org.
ABOUT VOICES FOR CHILDREN
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 served more than 3,400 children in foster care across San Diego and Riverside Counties. For more information, visit speakupnow.org.