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!