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Photo by Dante Fontana
One of life’s impossible truths is that thousands of abused and neglected children in this country – hundreds from our community – have been extracted from their homes, removed from their families and are part of an overburdened dependency and delinquency system.
They live in limbo and bounce from foster home to foster home while equally strained courts try to determine their best interests. Is reunification of the family possible, and if not, under whose custody will these children live until they “age out” of the system?
Wading these unpredictable waters is Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteers. Formed nationally in 1977 to provide court-appointed volunteer advocacy to abused and/or neglected children of all ages, CASA now operates a network of more than 1,050 community offices nationwide, including a local chapter in El Dorado County, first formed in 1992. Like its national counterparts, this CASA affiliate recruits, trains and supports volunteers to provide quality advocacy and consistency for children in the system – and a voice for them in court.
CASA of EDC, explains Executive Director John Adams, operates at an unequaled level of effectiveness and efficiency despite significant fiscal limitations and staffing shortfalls. “We are the gold standard,” he says. “I always tell people that we have a good news story to tell.” In 2009, for example, CASA of EDC produced David and Goliath-like statistics. That year the organization served 70 percent of all children in the local court system – “twice the state median average, at a cost per child, less than half the median state average.”
Rewards for Adams, who is quick to credit his staff for their dedication, and volunteers for their altruistic passion, also stem from the organization’s overall mission to reunify youth with families when possible, and when not, to secure them permanent residency in loving homes through adoption, guardianship, or stable foster placement that provides emotional support.
CASA of EDC volunteers work on cases that have been assigned to the organization by the courts and are linchpins of the operation. They meet with social workers, teachers, family members, physicians, mental health professionals, law enforcement and the children to provide a judge with recommendations and a comprehensive accounting of the case. Without the involvement of a CASA, the research judges receive is frequently limited – the product of an overstrained, critically under-funded system.
CASA also advocates for the best interests of the community, engendering understanding among residents about an issue that crosses all socioeconomic, cultural and ethnic boundaries. The picture becomes more sobering when you factor in the other realities: children with a CASA are less likely to spend more than three years in foster care than those without advocates, and four times less likely to reenter the system after their cases have been closed. CASA advocacy also saves the county and taxpayers thousands in staffing, emergency shelter, and ancillary costs it requires every time they keep a child from being relocated to a new foster home.
CASA of EDC currently needs male volunteers and your support. For more details about the organization, including its Fifth Annual ‘CASAblanca in the Vineyard’ event (September 24 at Rancho Olivo Vineyards in Cameron Park), visit casaeldorado.org.