“What took you so long?”
That’s the question one local foster child asked his CASA on their first visit together after 10 weeks of social distancing to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
For a 6-year-old foster child and his Court Appointed Special Advocate, 10 weeks apart was hard to bear. Before the stay-at-home order, they met weekly for fun adventures inspired by the child’s interests and needs, including frequent trips to Rescue Ranch to play with dogs and trips to the library to complete schoolwork.
Despite the time apart, the CASA said that she and her assigned foster child “went right back to our old relationship” once they were able to see each other in person. One-on-one, in-person visits are vital to this volunteer advocacy for abused and neglected children in the foster care system.
CASAs are trained volunteers who spend time with foster children, get to know their specific needs, and speak up on their behalf in court. The COVID-19 pandemic limited CASAs’ access to the children they serve, as well as to other community resources, including restricted access to dependency court.
But now, CASA volunteers are back – and this time, with PPE.
To continue to protect the health of foster children, their foster and biological families, and the volunteers who serve them, Siskiyou County CASAs and foster children wear masks while visiting in-person. Visits must also take place in areas where CASAs and foster children are able to maintain 6 feet of distance from other members of the public, such as outdoors or at the Youth Empowerment Siskiyou office.
Youth Empowerment has provided all CASA volunteers with cloth face masks, hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes. Support from the Ford Family Foundation made purchasing these items possible, and local businesses Denny Bar Co. and Twisted Chaos Designs provided generous discounts on locally produced items.
The strong relationship that a CASA develops with the foster child they are advocating for can make all the difference in outcomes for these youth. Research has shown that having at least one consistent relationship with a stable and caring adult builds resilience in children, allowing them to persevere through hardships. Having a CASA as that consistent adult in a foster child’s life has shown to shorten the time a child spends in foster care as well as improve school performance and relationships.
Experts predict that rates of child abuse will increase due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, as most referrals to the dependency system come from professionals that come in contact with children in their line of work, these statistics will not be known until after some degree of normalcy returns. The expected rise in child abuse rates will compound the need for volunteers to come forward and stand up for abused and neglected foster children.
Youth Empowerment Siskiyou is recruiting and training new CASA volunteer throughout the COVD-19 pandemic. At any given time, between 120 to 150 children are engaged in the dependency system in Siskiyou County. Currently, only about 30 children have access to a CASA volunteer – so the need for more volunteers is great. All 150 children in the dependency system deserve a CASA advocate.
Visit www.YouthEmpowermentSiskiyou.org or call (530) 841-0844 for more information on how to become a Court Appointed Special Advocate.
Interested in volunteering to support trauma-exposed youth in other ways? Other opportunities include supporting Camp HOPE Siskiyou during our trauma-informed summer camp in August. Luggage of Love, a program that provides comforting essentials to youth in transition, is also in need of volunteers.