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Change a Child’s Story
By Kendra Bertschy
By age 11, Megan had been removed from home four times, been in numerous foster care placements, changed schools more times than she could count, and had over a dozen social workers come in and out of her life. The only consistent adult during her time in foster care was her Court Appointed Special Advocate (“CASA”). “[Our CASA] was one of the few trusted adults in our life. . . Not only was [our CASA] always there for us, she gave us a voice when nobody else could.”
For Megan, whose name I have changed for this article, her CASA was the one person who was always there for her to help her navigate the turbulent and uncertain foster care system. Megan’s story is unfortunately not unique.
Megan is one of the reasons why I continued to be involved with CASA. I was first introduced to CASA as an undergraduate and have maintained some connection to the organization since then. Currently, I am the Chair of the Washoe CASA Foundation.
Each year more than 600,000 children in the U.S. are placed into foster care because they can no longer live safely at home. In Washoe County alone, there are almost 800 children in foster care. Currently, there are approximately 100 CASA volunteers in Washoe County serving 124 children in foster care. Unfortunately, that means that there are approximately 85% of children in care in Washoe County do not have a CASA appointed to their case.
CASA volunteers, or Court Appointed Special Advocates, act as the “eyes and ears” of the court. CASAs seek to assure that the child is returned or placed in a safe, permanent home as quickly as possible. In order to make a recommendation to the court, CASA volunteers spend time with the child and talk with everyone in that child’s life, including parents, relatives, foster parents, teachers, attorneys, social workers, and health care professionals. CASAs make sure that our children do not have to face the trauma and chaos of the courtroom alone.
Without intervention, the odds are stacked against children in foster care. A child with a CASA volunteer, however, spends 20 percent less time in foster care, on average, compared to a child without a CASA volunteer. Studies show children with a CASA volunteer receive more services that are critical to their well-being and are four times more likely to return home or be placed in a permanent home. Foster children with CASAs also do better in school and have a better foundation in their life going forward, as well as the added benefit of making a lifelong connection with someone who has made a difference in their life.
As the coronavirus pandemic unfolds, the Washoe CASA Foundation is more committed than ever to ensuring that the CASA volunteers have the resources and support they need to be there for the vulnerable children that they serve.
Several times I have heard that are all experiencing collective trauma. Everyone has been impacted by COVID-19. For children in foster care, issues with self-isolation and closing of critically important services only exacerbates the difficult circumstances that that they are in due to no fault of their own. CASAs are devising creative ways to interact with the children that they serve while maintain social distancing and complying with stay at home orders. CASAs typically conduct a minimum of monthly in-person visits with their child. They are reading books over zoom, playing Mad libs, creating poems together, learning TikTok dances, and countless other activities to ensure that the child knows that their CASA is a supportive adult who is committed to them, no matter what! Our volunteers are needed now more than ever to provide a consistent and compassionate presence in a child’s life.
May was also National Foster Care Month, providing us with an opportunity to focus our attention on the needs of our children in foster care. I want to raise awareness and encourage others to get involved in the lives of these youth. Even if you are unable to become a CASA volunteer, you can still support the Washoe CASA Foundation in other ways by donating or spreading awareness. Your support is vital to help us serve children like Megan and help change their story for the better.
If you’re interested in becoming a volunteer advocate to help children in the child welfare system, CASA’s recruitment and training process is moving online. Learn more at our website, www.washoecasafoundation.com.