What led to the closing of the previous Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program in Riverside County?
Due to management and financial issues, CASA for Riverside County, Inc.’s contract with the Riverside County courts ended as of August 31, 2014. The Judicial Council of California removed its funding from the program, and the California CASA Association and National CASA Association withdrew endorsement.
Are the foster children who were being served previously by CASAs in Riverside County still receiving advocacy?
When CASA for Riverside County, Inc. closed in August 2014, the Court Appointed Special Advocate, or CASA, volunteers working with the organization were no longer permitted to appear in court on behalf of their case children. However, in an effort to minimize the impact that the program’s closing has had on foster children there, Riverside County Children’s Services Division, Department of Public Social Services generously agreed to help volunteers become identified as important persons, lifelong connections, or other designations that allowed continued contact with their case children. While volunteers did not have the same duties and authority of an official CASA volunteer, they did have the opportunity to maintain a relationship with the child. When Voices for Children began operating the CASA program in Riverside County in June 2015, many of the CASAs who had advocated for children previously were rescreened and provided with supplemental training, so they could be reinstated as CASA volunteers.
How did Voices for Children come to be involved with Riverside County?
In August 2014, the Superior Court of California, Riverside County, and Judicial Council of California asked Voices for Children to help rebuild the CASA program in Riverside County in order to continue to provide services for the many foster children who need support. This request came because VFC is a model program, both regionally and nationally, and has the appropriate level of professional expertise, staff resources, and management acumen to help turn the program around. In addition, San Diego and Riverside Counties are geographically adjacent.
What is Voices for Children’s background as the CASA program for San Diego County?
California law allows the Juvenile Court to designate one organization per county as its official CASA Program. This designated CASA program gives volunteer advocates the legal authorization to investigate an abused and/or neglected child’s circumstances, develop a relationship with the child, and make best interest recommendations to the Juvenile Court. Voices for Children is and has been the only CASA program for San Diego County since 1983. Voices for Children is one of the nation’s leading CASA programs, ranking in the top five of all 950 such programs in the U.S. in terms of budget size ($6 million), number of children served (3,190), number of CASA volunteers (1,600), and size of staff (73). Since 1997, the President/CEO of Voices for Children has been Sharon M. Lawrence, Esq.; the current Chair of the 25-member VFC Board of Directors is Jill Skrezyna, a community volunteer and former CASA with a background in maternal and child health programs.
What is the agreement between Voices for Children and Superior Court of California, Riverside County, to continue CASA services in Riverside County?
In November 2014, the Board of Directors of Voices for Children made the decision to launch this initiative in Riverside County. As of January 2015, Voices for Children, entered into an agreement with the Superior Court of California, Riverside County, to recruit and train CASAs and provide services to foster children in Riverside County. The agreement with the Superior Court currently extends to September 30, 2017, and is renewable annually. Voices for Children will oversee the CASA program in Riverside County, recruiting, training, and supervising volunteers who advocate and speak up for abused and neglected children living in Riverside County’s foster care system.
What are the differences between the previous program’s model and Voices for Children’s current program model?
CASA for Riverside County, Inc. used a “peer mentor” model, in which CASA volunteers supervise other CASAs. When the organization closed in August 2014, there were approximately 60 CASAs serving 92 foster children. With an estimated 5,400 children living in Riverside County foster care over the course of a year, only 2% had been served by a CASA.
Voices for Children uses an Advocacy Supervisor model in which staff members with expertise in child welfare and volunteer management are matched with CASAs to help them navigate the system and collaborate with them on their case.
In June 2015, VFC launched its CASA program in Riverside County, and served 140 children through the work of 113 CASAs in its first full fiscal year (FY2015-2016).
How does Voices for Children operate in Riverside County?
This new program in Riverside County started modestly, with a goal of serving 50-100 foster children by September 30, 2015. The first few months of 2015 encompassed a top-to-bottom needs assessment and plan of action. Voices for Children hired a total of five full-time Riverside-County based staff members. In February 2016, Jessica Muñoz was hired as the program director for Riverside County, reporting to VFC President/CEO Sharon Lawrence. Both Riverside County staff and volunteers have received extensive training on the Voices for Children model of court advocacy, and use all VFC policies and procedures in their operation. VFC is committed to advocating for children and supporting volunteers throughout the diverse and geographically expansive Riverside County region. VFC staff members work from locations in the city of Riverside, Murrieta/French Valley, and the Coachella Valley.
How is the CASA Program in Riverside County funded?
The program initially received a grant from the Judicial Council of California, which was matched $1-for-$1 by a private donor who is concerned about the welfare of Riverside County’s foster children. Since then, individuals, local governments, foundations, and corporations have partnered with Voices for Children to rebuild the program and ensure that the foster children in Riverside County have CASAs by their side—in court, in school, and in the community. For more information about how individuals, businesses and organizations can partner with VFC’s Riverside County program, please contact Jessica Muñoz, Program Director, at (951) 357-9100 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Is Voices for Children currently recruiting for new CASAs for Riverside County?
Yes! If you are interested in becoming a CASA, please sign up to attend one of our upcoming Information Sessions. Then, you will need to complete and submit our CASA Application for Riverside County and interview with a Voices for Children staff member. If after the interview we determine a mutual fit, you will be invited to begin training through our Advocate University. For more information about becoming a CASA volunteer, please email email@example.com, call (951) 472-9301, or click here.