By SESARIO ESCOTO
CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) exists because children in the foster care system need a voice. These young people experience great loss and trauma, and CASA of Santa Cruz County provides a light in the darkness that can fall upon this time in their lives; that light being the CASA volunteers.
Volunteer Advocates stay with a child through the entirety of their case until they are reunified with their family or placed in another safe, loving, permanent home, which is typically 18-24 months. They listen to them, identify their needs, and advocate for them in court, school and the community.
Right now, CASA is facing a challenge — a huge unmet need. Many children and youth being referred to CASA come from Spanish-speaking families. The volunteer Advocates are much better equipped to serve them if they can speak their language. Sadly, children who need a bilingual Advocate wait two times as long to be paired with a caring volunteer.
Spanish-speaking children in the foster care system stand to lose not only their home, school, clothes, pets, books and toys, but also, and perhaps most importantly, their language and culture. In the process of moving around between multiple group homes and foster homes, they are likely to lose a connection to their past and their sense of identity. A volunteer who shares some of their cultural background can become the bridge between the isolating system that takes so much from them and their concept of who they are and where they come from. Bilingual/bicultural volunteers can help a child develop pride in their cultural identity and develop self-esteem.
CASA needs volunteers who speak both Spanish and English, and have a few hours a week to spend with a young person and be this important bridge. If you fit this description, please call 761-2956 to find out more information. If you know someone who can help, please share this story. There are children on the CASA wait list right now who need a supportive adult in their lives.
I’m retired now, but I worked in education for 40 years, in all levels (high school, middle school, elementary and college) so I’ve seen the kids coming through our school system who need extra support. Now, as a member of the CASA Board of Directors, I get to see how caring, adult volunteers make a difference in the lives of these children and youth.
Sesario Escoto serves on the CASA Board of Directors. He is a retired Dean of Students from Cabrillo College, and former elementary school principal from the Live Oak School District. His opinions are his own and not necessarily those of the Register-Pajaronian.