Children in the foster system depend on Court Appointed Special Advocates to serve as their voice and ensure their best interests. These volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Ventura County also provide reassurance, guidance, comfort, representation and advocacy in times of extreme uncertainty for foster children ages 0-21.
The only organization of its kind in Ventura County, CASA believes that every court-dependent abused or neglected child should be safe, have permanence, the opportunity to thrive and a strong, compassionate volunteer advocate. Sanctioned by the Juvenile Dependency Court under California Rules of Court and the California Welfare and Institutions Code, each advocate is thoroughly screened and receives 30 hours of training before becoming eligible to be assigned to a child.
Advocates typically spend two to four hours each week with a child, providing a continuity of love and support and representing the child’s best interests with the agencies and professionals involved in the child’s care and education.
National CASA research shows children with advocates receive more services, experience shorter times in foster care, are half as likely to re-enter foster care and are substantially less likely to spend time in long-term foster care. As being placed in the foster care system is a time full of insecurity and stress, the advocate is one constant, positive presence in the child’s life until a permanent placement can be secured.
CASA volunteer Linda Parker, a 29-year-old preschool teacher, has worked with 12 youth during her three years as an advocate. Currently an advocate for three rambunctious young boys, Linda is passionate about helping children in need.
“God gave me a passion for foster kids who I relate with in some ways and I wanted to be able to work with them. Through the catalyst of advocacy, I could stand up in court for a group that is often forgotten and show them that I care about them and that they are seen and valuable enough to be invested in, not just in a relationship, but also in court,” she says.
“I continue to take cases because I love what I get to do and I love the way specifically, that I’m able to be a model for the kids, have a relationship and encourage them and the families they’re with—both foster and biological. It’s also a powerful resource to have a voice in court for the kids we work with,” says Linda.
The California Blue Ribbon Commission on foster care recommends that each foster youth have an advocate. Thus, increasing the number of Court Appointed Special Advocates is key to serving area foster children. CASA seeks to recruit, screen and train more volunteers in order to increase the number of youth being served, with the goal of ensuring that any child who needs an advocate has one.
CASA volunteers are asked to stay with their child for at least one year, and most average about 18 months with their appointee. Each CASA volunteer must spend 12 additional hours during the year attending in-service education to stay mindful of the ever-changing elements of their advocacy work.
Serving as a volunteer advocate is a meaningful way to make a lasting impact on young lives.
CASA of Ventura County is holding an information session to learn about CASA and volunteer opportunities on Nov. 30, from 6:30-8 p.m. Call 805.389.3120 to RSVP. Visit CASAofVenturaCounty.org for more information.