Helping Hispanic Children Through the Foster Care System

hispanicheritage

Yasna Babich, Former CASA Volunteer, Fall 2009 Class

Bounced among foster homes, lawyers, and case workers, children in foster care need a consistent, caring advocate, and for children of Hispanic heritage, it is particularly important that their CASA volunteer understand and respect their culture. In Atlantic and Cape May counties, 44 Hispanic and Latino children were removed from their homes last fiscal year. Yet, CASA has only three volunteers of Hispanic heritage, which means children are often assigned to a CASA volunteer with a different ethnic background.

Former CASA volunteer and Pleasantville resident, Yasna Babich finds her heritage allowed her to develop a closer relationship with the children on her case. When Yasna first took her case three years ago, her CASA child was frightened and unresponsive to those trying to help her. Then the young girl met Yasna, who spoke in the girl’s native Spanish language, and she immediately became comfortable and opened up to Yasna. “Everything totally changed when she could speak Spanish. We had a communication bond, and she came to me when she needed help,” Yasna said. Growing up in Miami, Yasna explained, it was easy for her to find someone who spoke Spanish, but in Atlantic and Cape May Counties, fluent Spanish speakers are rare. Navigating the foster care system is already complicated, but with English as a second language, the experience can be overwhelming.

Cultural competency is more than overcoming a language barrier; sensitivity to traditions and values builds trust between the CASA volunteer and the child. “Every single Hispanic culture is different, but the method of upbringing with a foundation of family is there (in all cultures),” Yasna said. Despite their differences, with most Hispanic and Latino cultures, there is a commonality of having deep passion for family. “We love to fight, but at the dinner table, we all love each other,” she said laughing. Although the CASA children have come from an abusive home-life, their propensity to reflect their culture is still there, she explained.

As a CASA Volunteer, you strive to not be too emotionally involved in the case, but Yasna advises, “For Hispanic culture, you need to bring emotion out to form a trust with the child.” According to Casey Family Programs, Hispanic children are more likely to be placed in foster care and for longer periods of time than their White, non-Latino counterparts. Because of this, it is essential for the CASA volunteer and child relationship to be based on trust, rapport, and an ability to understand and appreciate the child’s culture and traditions. A more diverse volunteer base will better match the cultural make-up of the children CASA serves, but a shortage of Hispanic and Latino volunteers makes it difficult to meet the need. CASA Case Supervisor, Sara Passaro said, “Understanding how children feel about their heritage and being able to communicate and relate to their traditions can make the difference between the child feeling alone or appreciated and self-assured.”

Yasna is one of over 200 CASA Volunteers in Atlantic and Cape May Counties fighting for the rights of children living in foster care. CASA is central to fulfilling society’s most fundamental obligation by making sure a qualified, compassionate adult will fight for and protect a child’s right to be safe, to be treated with dignity and respect and to learn and grow in the safe embrace of a loving family. Join the Movement by calling CASA today at (609) 601-7800.

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