Friday, November 22, 2013

Change a child's life for good - support CASA

While many local foster children have yet to find permanent families who will raise them in a safe and secure home, there are also many foster youth who are thriving and have found a loving home. CASA volunteers are instrumental in finding forever families for these deserving foster children and this holiday season CASA celebrates these successes.  I would like to share with you the story of one CASA volunteer who advocated for an infant, Jenny**.  Jenny was born premature and drug-exposed and was living with her mother while her father was serving a prison sentence. Her mother regularly visited her husband in
prison, bringing Jenny with her. She thought that because she was holding a baby when entering the prison facility, she would not be searched. But she was searched and arrested for attempting to smuggle drugs into the prison.

Her mother’s arrest left Jenny, now six months old, in need of foster care and she was placed in a fost/adopt* home with Kate. ** Jenny began to thrive and bonded with Kate while Kate grew very attached to Jenny.  Because research shows that children do best when reunited with family if that can be done safely, Child Welfare Services began to search for a placement for Jenny with family.  This is when Linda** was assigned as Jenny’s CASA volunteer advocate. Linda immediately began her advocacy for Jenny.  She met with numerous relatives who had expressed interest in Jenny’s welfare, gathered information and monitored Jenny’s progress in foster care.

While Jenny had regular, supervised visits with her birth mother, her mother lost custody of her other children due to abuse and gave birth to another child. This new baby disappeared and was presumed to be with family members. Visits between Jenny and her mother were moved to a more secure location as social workers feared child abduction. Despite the turmoil and possible dangers with Jenny’s relatives, social workers continued to bring family members to meet her.  However, further investigation found that all but one relative had frightening criminal records. This relative was a distant, elderly cousin who was marginally employed and living in poverty. Linda’s observations of the cousin’s visits with Jenny and her interviews with the cousin revealed that this woman was completely overwhelmed with work and caring for other relatives’ children who had been placed in her care.

During this critical time Jenny’s CASA, Linda, became even more convinced that Jenny would only get the stability needed for a healthy life if she were adopted by her foster mother, Kate. Linda carefully  Jenny’s was a true success story.  She found a safe, loving and permanent home which every child deserves.
documented her findings and observations and presented them to the court. After two years as an advocate for Jenny, Linda’s dreams for Jenny were realized when the court finalized Jenny’s adoption
by Kate. Shortly after, Kate married her fiancé and Jenny moved to the Midwest with her new family.

Donations to CASA fund the training and supervision of volunteers who directly affect the outcome of the lives of children like Jenny. Please consider a donation today so that we can continue to serve more children. Any size gift helps. A donation of $125 will provide an advocate for a child for three weeks. A donation of $2,000 will support an advocate for one child for one year. These children need your help and deserve a loving home.

On behalf of CASA and the children we serve, please accept our wishes for a wonderful holiday season and a happy new year.
With gratitude,

Teresa Tardiff
Executive Director

Thursday, August 8, 2013

CASA Launches Mentor Program for
Former Foster Youth over 18
The statistics for youth leaving the foster care system at 18 are very disheartening:  65% of youth leaving foster care do so without a place to live and 40% will be homeless within 18 months; less than 50% of former foster youth are employed 2.5 to 4 years after leaving care; and 1 in 5 will be incarcerated – 70% of California prisoners have spent some time in foster care.

 To address this tragedy, Assembly Bill 12, now called After 18, was enacted to give needed support to foster youth, enabling them to further their education and develop work and living skills needed in adult life.  Since January 2012, foster youth are eligible to receive foster care and Independent Living Program (ILP) services until the age of 21 when they meet eligibility criteria. 

 During a recent forum at Cuesta College which included former foster youth from the California Youth Connection (CYC) and was sponsored by the Department of Social Services and Cuesta’s Independent Living Program, the youth identified a need for mentors who would work with them to learn the living skills needed to make a successful transition to adult life.

 Because of the success of the CASA program and its capacity to recruit, screen, train and supervise volunteer advocates, CASA was asked to be the agency to establish and oversee a mentor program for youth who had been dependents of the court before their 18th birthday.

 The Honorable Linda Hurst of the Superior Court in San Luis Obispo County has made the CASA Mentor Program a priority in her court. Judge Hurst has approved the proposal for the CASA program which hopes to have 15 mentors on board by the end of this year.

 CASA plans to train the first group of mentors in CASA training class which begins in September in Atascadero. After completion of the CASA training program, CASA Mentors will complete additional classes covering such topics as Identifying Needed Life Skills. CASA Mentors will be asked to make a one-year commitment to a youth.   

Participation will be voluntary for the youth who will have taken the Casey Life Skills Assessment before entering the program. The assessment covers eight domains of a youth’s life which includes: Permanency, Daily Living, Self-Care, Relationships and Communication, Housing and Money Management, Work and Study Life, Career and Education Planning, and Looking Forward. Mentors will have access to their assigned youth’s assessment and together with the youth will identify areas where support and education is needed. During the one-year assignment, mentors will meet weekly with the youth to further skills and knowledge in areas as needed. At the end of the first year in the mentoring program, youth will take the assessment again to track any changes in increased knowledge and/or skills.

  CASA is currently recruiting volunteers to be CASA Mentors. Help us spread the word about the new CASA Mentor program. Training begins in September in Atascadero and October in San Luis Obispo. Contact CASA at staff or 541-6542 for more information.

 For more information visit

Thursday, May 16, 2013

CASA's 20th Anniversary!

CASA Celebrates 20 Years in SLO County

When asked to share about her experience of having a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Andrea* says, "My whole life got better when my CASA entered my life. She always encouraged me to reach for the stars. She always told me I could be and do anything I wanted; all I had to do was the footwork to get there."
CASA is a national non-profit organization focused on advocating for the best interests of abused and neglected children. CASA recruits, trains, and supervises volunteer advocates for children in the foster care system with the goal of ensuring that each and every child grows up in a safe, nurturing, and permanent home. A local foster parent and business owner named Susan Polk took the steps to start the SLO County CASA program after she experienced firsthand the lack of resources and education available to foster parents within the county.
One of the greatest benefits of a CASA's presence is consistency. CASA volunteers usually meet with their assigned child once a week. Jennifer* describes her CASA as being one of the first adults to give her individual attention: "I was assigned a CASA volunteer when I was in foster care. She sat me down and told me she was there just for me. It wasn't about my parents or anyone else. It was about me and my future. At that point I'd talked with a lot of people—lawyers and social workers and such—but that was the first time someone had said that to me. It changed my attitude and it changed my life."
Jennifer is not alone in this feeling. Many foster children have shared the experience of feeling overlooked as they are shuffled through the process of finding a permanent home. For Andrea, her CASA is someone who always stood by her side to root for her and advocate for her needs. Speaking of her CASA's dependability she says, "She fought for me. She selflessly took the time out of her day to spend with me. She was constantly there and was always encouraging of everything I did. Having a CASA--someone to talk to who was consistent and who did the things they did because deep down inside they just care--made a world of difference to me."
CASA's focus always has been and always will be the well-being of the abused and neglected children of this County. Since 1993, more than 2,000 children have had the benefit of a CASA volunteer. Currently 100 volunteers serve 150 children in San Luis Obispo County.  However, approximately 350 local children are still awaiting assignment of a CASA volunteer to advocate for them.
*Names were changed to protect privacy and confidentiality
        *Written by Kelly Shaw

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Happy National Foster Care Awareness Month!

May is National Foster Care Awareness month. On any given day, there are hundreds of thousands of children in foster care. These thousands of children need the help of CASA advocates in order to ensure that their voices are heard. Foster Care Awareness month is an opportunity to gain the attention of the public and encourage people to get involved in the lives of these youth who need help and care. 

Our CASA advocates often report they are working with amazing dedicated foster parents and caregivers. The short story and poem below describe the dedication.  These wonderful giving foster families provide to children in need. 

Stephanie’s Story:  Stephanie was just beginning to blossom into a teenager when she arrived at her foster mom Dina’s home on her 13th birthday. Unlike many other girls just turning 13, Stephanie was too uncertain about her future to be excited.
Coming from a neglectful home, Stephanie entered the social services system at age 8 and had lived with a few foster families before she was placed into Dina’s care. She felt angry, unwanted and mistrustful of the adults in her life. She admits that she acted out and tested Dina. She threatened to leave, but Dina told her that her problems would only follow her if she did. So she stayed and, with Dina’s help, worked through many of her emotional issues.

“She’s been the only one who has kept me. She didn't give me up,” says Stephanie, who is now 17 and readying herself for college.
As her foster parent, Dina not only gave Stephanie a safe, loving environment and a roof over her head, she became a role model. “Strong,” “independent,” “level-headed” and “stable” are just a few of the adjectives Stephanie uses to describe her foster mom. “You can throw a ton of bricks at her and she still stands strong. That’s what I want to be like,” she says.
Stephanie is now set to graduate third in her class from high school, and will be moving to a new city for college where she plans to earn a bachelor’s degree in forensic psychology. Once she is 18 and officially enrolled full-time in college, she will no longer be under Dina’s care, but Dina says she will still be a part of her family.  “I’m proud of her,” says Dina. “It’s rewarding to see her go on to adulthood.”

This poem, written by a child in foster care in San Luis Obispo county, was published in the Child Welfare Services 2012 calendar:

I have a new family...
A brother that is always there.
A mother and father who always care.
Brothers and sisters who surround me, and always want me near.
I have a new family…
who accept me no matter who I am,
who love me unconditionally and help me when I fail.
A mother and father who supply my needs.
They keep me safe through the storms,
and anchor me through tough times.
I have a new family…
who love me and keep me safe.

CASA would like to sincerely thank the San Luis Obispo County Department of Social Services, Family Care Network, Aspiranet, Foster Parents Association and all foster parents and caregivers for all they do to ensure safe, loving and supportive foster care for children! 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Hello friends! Welcome to CASA of San Luis Obispo County's official blog. We have created this blog in honor of our 20th anniversary of dedication to the well-being of neglected children in San Luis Obispo County.  Keep checking back for updates, articles, photos, and more!