Here are some disconcerting statistics: Three of every 10 of the nation's homeless are former foster youth. Almost half (46 percent) of foster children do not complete high school. One of every five of the country's foster children lives in California, approximately 1,900 of them in Alameda County.
In addition to disruptive family situations, foster children "face a lack of consistency among the professionals involved in their case due to staffing considerations," according to the Alameda County CASA (Court-Appointed Special Advocates) Program, an organization that provides one-on-one court advocacy to abused, neglected, or abandoned children.
Fortunately, there is an opportunity for compassionate and committed adults to add stability to the lives of these children, who have become dependents of the juvenile court through no fault of their own, notes CASA's John Anyosa. As the organization's Volunteer Recruiter, Anyosa and the CASA trainer, Tina Mahle, are the moving force behind the efforts to recruit, screen, and train volunteer advocates to "become the voice of the child."
Because they have a formal judicial relationship, CASA volunteers can make a significant difference, Anyosa comments. Once officially sworn in by a juvenile court judge, the advocates are assigned to a child through a CASA case supervisor, who oversees the case and provides support to the volunteers. While they are encouraged to do fun things to help build rapport with their advocate child, Anyosa stresses that the adults' role goes far beyond providing entertainment or mentoring. Regular visits-two to four times per month-allow the advocates to gain first-hand knowledge of their charges' key issues, such as placement, health, and education.
The advocates are responsible for conveying their observations to all the professionals involved in the case to keep them current. They also monitor progress toward established goals and follow up with professionals to ensure tasks are completed in a timely manner. Monthly reports to the case supervisor are incorporated into the report reviewed by the judge during the hearings scheduled for each child at six month intervals.
"Who knows what to recommend better than the volunteer who spends time with the child?" Anyosa asks rhetorically. "We see the advocates as the voice of the child. They identify their needs, whether it's a visit with siblings, an individual educational plan at school, helping them to play sports, or finding out the last time they saw a dentist."
CASA conducts several 36-hour training sessions for advocates every year across Alameda County. This year, Anyosa observes that shifts in the county population have caused the number of foster children in and around the Tri-Valley to escalate. Currently about 140 youth are on the waiting list for an advocate.
"I like to emphasize that we provide all the training necessary to become an advocate," he points out. After screening, the only volunteer requirements are a one-year commitment and a passion to work with children, primarily between the ages of 13 to 19. "These young people really benefit from the consistency of an advocate's support," says Anyosa, inviting anyone interested in the program to contact him at email@example.com or (510) 618-1964.
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