Volunteering to help children requires a special patience and an ability to see that child’s experiences though their own eyes. It is not surprising that an adult volunteers’ own ethnic background and cultural sensitivity play an important role in relating to and connecting with children and youth.
We see this everyday at CASA for Children. Our mission is to train adult volunteers to advocate for children living in foster care. We know that cultural competence and gender diversity is critical to providing the most effective advocacy for the children we serve. That understanding each child’s unique qualities and showing respect for traditions and values will strengthen the work we do for all children living within the child welfare system.
CASA volunteers should represent the population of children served. Unfortunately, in Atlantic and Cape May Counties, nearly 30% of the children living in foster care are African American but only 13% our volunteer base is African American. Just less than 50% of the youth served are boys, but only 20% of our volunteers are men.
CASA takes great steps to ensure that all volunteers are culturally competent regardless of race or gender, but no amount of training can fully teach behavior, attitude or communication that is learned organically within each diverse population.
Which is why a truly diverse volunteer base is crucial to reflecting the children served in our community.
Cultural competency is more than overcoming a language barrier; sensitivity to traditions and values and understanding gender roles builds trust between CASA volunteers and the children they help. “Every single culture and child is different, but the method of upbringing with a foundation of family is there in all,” CASA Volunteer Yaz Babich said. Although CASA children have come from an abusive or neglectful home, their propensity to reflect their culture and who they are still exists, she explained.
According to Casey Family Programs and the Child Welfare League of America, African American children are more likely to be placed in foster care and for longer periods of time than their White, non-Latino counterparts.
A more diverse volunteer base will better match the cultural make-up of the children CASA serves, but a shortage of African American volunteers make it difficult to meet the need. CASA Volunteer Coordinator, Sara Passaro said, “Understanding how children feel about their heritage, ethnicity and being able to communicate and relate to their situations can make the difference between the child feeling alone or appreciated and self-assured.”
Individuals interested in becoming a CASA volunteer call (609) 601-7800, email Julie Bellezza at Julie@AtlanticCapeCASA.org or visit http://www.AtlanticCapeCASA.org/VolunteerInfo.aspx. The next two training classes are scheduled for March 2014.