Aug 04, 2011 10:46AM
● By Style
Photo by Dante Fontana
One of life’s impossible truths is that thousands of abused and neglected children in this country – hundreds from our communities – have been extracted from their homes, removed from their families and are part of an overburdened dependency and delinquency system.
They live in limbo and bounce from foster home to foster home while equally strained courts try to determine their best interests. Is reunification of the family possible, and if not, under whose custody will these children live until they “age out” of the system?
Wading these unpredictable waters is Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteers. Formed nationally in 1977 to provide court-appointed volunteer advocacy to abused and/or neglected children of all ages, CASA now operates a network of more than 1,050 community offices nationwide, including local chapters in Sacramento and El Dorado County. Like their national counterparts, these CASA affiliates recruit, train and support volunteers to provide quality advocacy and consistency for children in the system – and a voice for them in court.
For CASA of Sacramento County’s Executive Director Carol Noreen, rewards overshadow the challenges, chief of which is finding youth permanence in loving homes through reunification, adoption, guardianship, or a stable foster placement that provides emotional support. “It is the most important component of what we do and the key to success for most of our children,” explains Noreen. “Once they have the supportive home environment, they have room to build their confidence, improve academic outcomes and enjoy being a kid, knowing that they are not alone. It makes all the difference in the world.”
Also making a difference is CASA of EDC. Its mission deeply resonates with Executive Director John Adams, who makes clear that while CASA deals with a weighty issue, EDC’s chapter is “a good news story – we are a wonderful success story for this community and have set the gold standard from an effectiveness and efficiency standpoint.”
CASA volunteers in both Sacramento and EDC work on cases that have been assigned to the organization by the courts and are linchpins of the operation. They meet with social workers, teachers, family members, physicians, mental health professionals, law enforcement and the children to provide a judge with recommendations and a comprehensive accounting of the case. Without the involvement of a CASA, the research that judges receive is frequently limited – the product of an overstrained, inexcusably under-funded system.
CASA also advocates for the best interests of the community by engendering understanding among residents. “Child abuse and neglect takes place in every community, but how we respond to this defines us and the outcomes for our kids,” says Noreen. The picture becomes more sobering when you factor in the other realities: Children with a CASA are less likely to spend more than three years in foster care than those without advocates, and four times less likely to reenter the system after their cases have been closed. CASA advocacy also saves the county and taxpayers approximately $15,000 in staffing, emergency shelter, and ancillary costs it requires every time they keep a child from being relocated to a new foster home. Currently, CASA of Sacramento and El Dorado Counties both need male volunteers.
For details about Sacramento’s 4th Annual Light of Hope benefit at the Barton Gallery in October, visit sacramentocasa.org; for El Dorado’s 5th Annual CASAblanca in the Vineyard at Rancho Olivo Vineyards in Cameron Park in September, visit casaeldorado.org.