Voices for Children’s 1,5000 CASA volunteers come from every ethnicity, background, income level, age, and profession. They pass several levels of screenings and interviews, and pass our rigorous training program of 35+ hours. Being a CASA is an extraordinary responsibility, not something suited to everyone. And those who do qualify are the elite and the best; one child described them as “big brothers with super powers.” CASAs who reported their time last year have donated approximately 64,000 hours. According to Independent Sector, the leadership network for America’s charitable and philanthropic sector, this contributed time could be valued at nearly $1.7 million.
Our volunteers perform miracles, often changing lives and bringing joy to their case children, yet also face anger, rejection, and mistrust from children who have been betrayed by adults. The stakes are very high for these children, yet studies show that CASA volunteers make a significant difference in the lives of their children.
“In my service as a CASA, I have learned to persevere and take challenges head-on,” Tania said. “As much as I have learned what my case child is capable of, I have also learned what I am capable of.” Tania Jabour, a Humanities instructor at High Tech High, became a CASA volunteer when she was in her mid-20s. At the time, she had a hard time facing difficult or uncomfortable tasks.
When Tania was initially assigned to Briana’s case, Briana was in crisis. Briana came into the system when she was eight years old due to physical abuse from her mother. During her time in foster care, she has been in and out of at least 15 placements and has struggled with mental health and behavioral issues.
“Her therapist told me that the situation was hopeless—there was too much damage,” Tania said. Tania refused to believe this.
“As Briana worked hard to achieve her goals, I came to believe that a foster home was the best placement option for her, so I advocated to her attorney, social worker, and judge that she be moved from the group home to a foster home,” Tania said.
“The most important thing I’ve learned is that it can take just one stable, trustworthy, supportive adult to change a child’s life.”
Though Tania’s plan was met with a great deal of resistance from some of the professionals working on Briana’s case, Tania continued to advocate for what she thought was best for the child.
“The facts in some of the reports presented to the Court did not provide enough background information for the judge to understand why Briana was struggling,” Tania said. “My reports helped the judge understand her situation more fully.”
After months of negotiating and countless meetings with various professionals and agencies, Briana was moved out of her group home.
“Through the hard work of my case child and the coordinated efforts of the entire team, we found her a fantastic foster home and she has been thriving there,” Tania said. “She’s a successful student and a responsible young woman, and she uses coping skills to manage her anger and frustration.”
Tania concluded, “The work a CASA does with and on behalf of the child during dependency can—and frequently does—set the child up for long-term success.”
When Jorge Valerdi retired, he knew he wanted to serve the community. Little did he know that his work as a Voices for Children CASA volunteer would result in praise from officials on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.
Jorge became a CASA in December 2002 and, to date, has advocated for 32 foster children. He specializes in cases that involve immigration and education issues and strives to improve the lives of Mexican-American foster children living in the United States. He has been relentless in his advocacy, doing everything possible with agencies in both countries to ensure these children receive the resources they need.
“Our community is definitely multicultural and we have to be very much aware of this so we can understand and recommend the best option for a case child when he or she has to be placed away from home,” Jorge said.
As a result of his incredible work with Voices for Children, Jorge was invited to Mexico’s House of Representatives, where he met with members of the Mexican Congress involved in immigration, human rights, and international relations commissions. Jorge shared with them his perspective on human rights for minors living near the border, and recommended availability of more services to immigrant mothers, procedures to give Latino parents the tools they need to help their children academically, and incentives for proactive health care.
“Being a CASA has allowed me to pay forward the many gifts I have received in my life.”
Jorge currently has two active cases that involve four children. Former case children stay in touch with Jorge, some contacting him on Father’s Day to thank him for his advocacy on their behalf and others sending regular updates on progress they’re making toward their life goals. One of the young men, Juan, had continued in extended foster care after he turned 18, under the provisions of new laws. At a subsequent hearing, Juan asked that his case be closed so that he could prove to himself, his family, and the Court that he was capable of living independently.
“I advocated to the judge that this young man was indeed mature enough to make it on his own,” Jorge said. The judge considered the facts of the case and Jorge’s recommendation and closed the boy’s case. Juan has since made a successful transition into adulthood.
When her youngest child graduated from high school, Christie Ranney asked her husband to consider fostering or adopting a child. “He suggested I find ‘another outlet’ for my passion,” Christie said, laughing. That outlet came in the form of volunteering with Voices for Children.
Christie, who is often assigned to challenging cases because of her tact and professionalism, has recently accepted her twelfth case. A few of her cases have ended in adoption. She has helped the others prepare for independent, successful lives.
“The CASA program allows me to support children in a way that best addresses their challenges and their futures,” Christie said.
One of her case children, James, graduated from high school and enlisted in the U.S. Army after Christie helped get him involved with the Sea Cadet program. James is doing well in the service and is already a leader of his company. Christie also advocated to the Court that two of her case children (brothers Joey and Austin) remain at their same high school all four years and graduate with their classes on time. Their older brother, Kevin, living in Kansas, frequently writes to Christie to ask for guidance, as she has been the most important and consistent person in his life.
“As a CASA, I bridge the gap between the real picture and what the judge sees on paper.”
“What I enjoy most is building a relationship with the children and inspiring and motivating them to graduate high school,” Christie said. “What I find most challenging about my CASA work is the children’s education and their choices as they get close to aging out of dependency. The severing of services when the kids are ‘aged out’ continues to be a major concern.”
Currently, Christie is working with a young girl with developmental delays who’s living with a foster family. Christie is not only an advocate for Sarah’s needs; she has become an important source of support for Sarah’s foster mother by helping her identify resources for the child. In addition to working directly with case children, Christie is a member of the Voices for Children Community Ambassador Program and donates many hours speaking to groups about her work as a CASA, educating potential volunteers about CASA service and the extraordinary experience of being a CASA for foster children.