Every day across the United States, 1,900 children are victims of abuse and neglect. Four of those children will die every day. While not all children are born into the arms of loving, capable parents – all children deserve the right to grow up in safe, loving homes.
The premise that every child deserves a safe, permanent home is at the core of the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) for Children mission. Established by a Seattle family court judge in 1977, CASA is now a national network of programs that recruit, train and support community volunteers. In Atlantic and Cape May Counties, 200 volunteers give a voice to 450 youth living in foster care but that is still only a fraction of the nearly 1,000 children living in care in our community.
CASA volunteers are empowered by the courts to give judges the critical information that they need so that each foster child receives appropriate care and resources. Volunteers advocate for the children until they are placed in a permanent home. For many children, the CASA volunteer may be the only consistent adult in their lives.
Foster care was originally established to be a temporary safety system. Unfortunately, it has become a way of life for too many children. Youth can spend years moving between foster homes or living in group homes without the security of a family – neither biological nor adoptive. For the youth who turn 18 and age out of the system, their future is bleak. Often under-educated, jobless, and homeless it is easy to understand how these young adults often turn to drugs, prostitution or criminal behavior as a means to survive.
Even with all of the challenges faced by foster youth, CASA volunteers are still able to affect positive changes for so many – helping the 9 year old who never went to school get the tutoring that she desperately needs, watching a brother and sister finally move into the same foster home, or hearing the judge order the anger-management counseling that a young boy needs. It is these, and so many other, actions that are taken by CASA volunteers that give each child the opportunity to overcome and thrive.
As a society, we have an obligation to help change the outcomes for all children that enter foster care. Whether through volunteering, advocating, fostering, adopting or simply supporting the organizations that work with these children, we will.