Serving as Court Appointed Special Advocates Can Help Black Children.
Samuel Herod speaks at a national meeting of Court Appointed Special Advocates (Courtesy photo)
With African American youth comprising 25% of the children in the Los Angeles County foster care system; a call is out to encourage more black adults to become volunteer mentors to these young people.
One avenue to assist is through the organization, CASA of Los Angeles. CASAs, Court Appointed Special Advocates, provide guidance and support to children who have entered the juvenile dependency system due to abuse or neglect by their parents.
According to its website, CASA “volunteers are appointed by judges to watch over and advocate for abused and neglected children, to make sure they don’t get lost in the overburdened legal and social service system or languish in inappropriate group or foster homes. Volunteers stay with each case until it is closed and the child is placed in a safe, permanent home.”
Of the 562 CASAs in the L.A. area, only 68 are African American while 371 are Caucasian and the remainder are of other ethnicities. Although being the same race or gender is not a requirement for volunteers and the children they serve, CASA Executive Director Wendelyn Nichols-Julien noted that it helps foster youth to have advocates that look like them.
“The Department of Children and Family Services has done a great job of recruiting social workers that come from communities that look more like the children that are being served and CASA is working on doing the same thing,” said Nichols-Julien.
“Anybody can be a mentor for a child. You don’t have to be the same race, gender or age. But when it comes to our older kids, it means a lot to have a mentor that they can relate to, someone who grew up in the neighborhood not far from them, who identifies with them ethnically. Some kids have been in the system so long and moved around so often they don’t trust the system so it helps, they open up a little bit more to someone who looks like them. Those kinds of things make a big difference.”
And positively impacting a child’s life does not take loads of time. CASAs donate an average of 10-to-20 hours a month through activities such as regular visits with the child, interacting with foster parents and teachers and accompanying youth to court hearings and appointments. Other actions, like online reports and phone calls, can be completed from a CASA’s home.
Also, becoming a CASA is a relatively simple process. After interviews and a background check, volunteers go through 40 hours of classroom and online training where they learn about cultural sensitivity, child development, psychotropic mood changing drugs and other information that may affect a child.
“The quality that makes a CASA most effective is people who are willing to take a risk and be confident in themselves. We are asking people to go into this system who aren’t social workers or lawyers. Someone who willing to say ‘I was a parent,’ ‘I was a kid,’ ‘I have real-life experiences to share,’ ‘I’m willing to get trained,’ ‘This isn’t the best for this child’ or ‘I am going to call the teacher,’” said Nichols-Julien.
Two African Americans, Samuel Herod and Delphia Jones, shared positive comments about their experience as CASAs.
Herod, who has represented more than 30 youth, said, “I’ve been CASA for 17 years and the one factor that made me want to be CASA is [that] I grew up with foster youth in the 60’s. What I most enjoy is seeing our youth grow up and become adults in our community and give back to the thousands of kids in the foster care systems.”
Jones, a CASA for six years, was inspired to become a volunteer because she wanted “to be a voice” for black children who are more likely to be removed from their homes, stay longer in the foster care system, less likely to be reunified or adopted and more likely to age out of the system.
“My most moving experience was when my CASA Youth graduated high school,” recalled Jones. “He was very concerned that he would not have enough credits to graduate on time. Like many foster youth, he had multiple placements and attended multiple schools making it difficult to assemble all of his credits.
“With the intervention and support of the school, his attorney and his entire support team he was able to both graduate on time and enroll in community college. His family, friends and supporters were all there to celebrate him as he received his diploma.”
The recruitment of more CASAs, especially African Americans, is an ongoing effort in light of the growing number of children in the foster care system. Inviting people to consider volunteering, Nichols-Julien said, “CASA provides an opportunity to make a difference in a kid’s life and it’s not a 24/7 type of commitment. You can do it without impacting your own family, without having to miss work all of the time and actually track the progress of this one child. You make such a prolific impact on a child’s life by becoming a CASA.”
To learn more, visit casala.org.