Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteers are making a difference in the lives of children across Kern County communities; their work helps ensure the well-being of children and youth in foster care.
As of March 10, CASA currently has 59 children on the waiting list for a CASA volunteer. Since CASA of Kern County’s inception, 3,406 children have received the advocacy of highly trained CASA volunteers. Currently, there are a total of 312 children who have a CASA.
Joana Hernandez decided to volunteer as an advocate because she understands the importance of a stable and caring adult in a child’s life. She has previously served the community through programs like the Boys and Girls Club which also influenced her as she was growing up. For Hernandez, this is a way for her to give back to the community.
Hernandez was recently sworn by the Juvenile Court Judge to become a Court Appointed Special Advocate. She is eager and ready to meet her CASA child soon. After 40 hours of training she received through the CASA program, she feels extremely prepared to provide the advocacy this child needs. Through the training, she learned how to be an advocate for children, how to navigate the child’s trauma, and has been certified as a mandated reporter.
“Giving them stability by being there for them can go a long way. Advocates can provide additional help by talking to their teacher, and being their support system to get them the appropriate help will help transform a child’s life who has gone through so much trauma already,” said Hernandez.
Community Outreach Coordinator Sabrina Campbell explains that CASA’s primary goal is to ensure each child’s right to a safe and permanent home. Children who have experienced abuse and/or neglect are placed in the care of the child welfare system. After a judge requests a CASA be paired with a child, CASA makes sure youth have a supportive person in their corner. Every step of their journey in the foster care system, children have a CASA who will speak up for their best interests. Advocates are consistent and caring adults who visit their CASA child on a weekly basis.
“There are so many studies that emphasize how one person can make such a difference to these kids. I think it is very important for us whenever we go into the training course that we ask for an 18 month commitment to the program. We want to make sure we are being consistent in a child’s life who has faced so many changes.” said Campell.
Becoming a co-CASA is also an option, where two volunteers are able to help the same child at once. Several couples and friends become co-CASAs and are able to rely on each other for support.
There are also other types of advocacy through CASA; for example, mental health advocacy or family connection. Youth who have a CASA and go into the AB12 program after they’ve aged out of the system, also continue to receive support from their CASA.
“A lot of our CASA volunteers use our CASA Clubhouse just for a way for CASA kids to unwind. It is definitely a good outlet for them and a place where they can just be kids, and also helps to strengthen the bond with their CASA advocates,” said Campbell.
Activities and projects are planned on a monthly basis for CASA children and youth to enjoy.
Hernandez recommends citizens to apply and become a CASA because children are our future and they need our support.
“These kids are our future, these kids need us and I know that we can make the time. I feel that we all have busy lives, yes, but it is just once a week and it’s one or two hours and I think that our community needs it. These kids need someone that they look up to and not feel so alone in this whole system. Their voices must be heard,” said Hernandez.
To become a CASA volunteer, the applicant must be 21 years or older and there are a number of steps that must be completed. The first step is to attend an orientation. Several orientations are held on a monthly basis and some are even offered via Zoom. In this orientation, citizens learn about CASA and learn the role and responsibilities of a CASA volunteer. After this step, if there is an interest to move forward in the process, a volunteer application is completed and an interview is scheduled. Once they are accepted they will do a background check and they will start their 40 hour training course. In the end, trained advocates are sworn in by the Juvenile Court Judge and it is then that the real work begins.
Anybody can apply anytime. There are five training sessions per year and the next training is starting on March 19. Classes are once a week in person. Please reach out to Sabrina Campbell for more information (661) 631-2272 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.