Los Angeles Court Appointed Special Advocate Volunteers
With a mission to mobilize community volunteers to advocate for children who have experienced abuse and neglect, CASA of Los Angeles is striving to establish safety, permanency and well-being for the dependency-case youth in the city.
The number of children in the welfare system is staggering in Los Angeles, to be precise, 30,000. In fact, LA County has the highest number of child welfare cases in the country, and the need for Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteers has never been greater.
CASA volunteers are paired with a child between the ages of newborn and 21. They collaborate with lawyers, judges, doctors, social workers and teachers in order to advocate for that child’s best interests. Writing reports, making phone calls and visiting the child are essential to the CASA volunteer role. According to volunteer Shannon Sandhu, an ER nurse at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center, many kids don’t have families. Sandhu said it’s so important for a child to stay in contact with their family, if they indeed have one. “CASA is a tremendous help in navigating the child welfare system that is so big,” she said. “The purpose of our volunteering is to individualize each case, one child at a time,” she continued.
Sandhu said a key component of a CASA volunteer’s work is making recommendations to the court. Oftentimes the recommendations presented by volunteers to the court become court orders. She made a request to the court for a violin which eventually became a court order and positively affected the child she represented. He was able to participate in music lessons, which impacted him emotionally and developmentally and was something he would not have been able to afford otherwise.
Essential to the volunteer’s understanding of the case is a court report about the child. Initially, CASA volunteers receive a file on the child they’ve been paired with from the CASA office database. A more detailed report is available from the court. This report describes the entire history of the case, including any initial allegations and the court’s attempts at placement. Many children come from foster homes or have been displaced. The end goal is reunification with a family, first and foremost.
Camrin Christensen, Volunteer Recruitment and Outreach Director for CASA of Los Angeles, said anyone over the age of 21 who is committed to helping children can become a volunteer. No specific education is required but volunteers must have strong communication and problem solving skills. Traveling is necessary as the duties of CASA include monthly face-to-face contact with a child wherever the child resides. A 2-year commitment to CASA is required. An average of 15 hours a month devoted to the case is expected.
The organization, now in its 40th year, started under the leadership of Judge Peter Giannini. Judge Giannini secured a four-year federal start-up grant and the program was first called the Child Advocates Office. In 1983 the program transitioned into Friends of Child Advocates, founded by Jacqueline Dolan. Volunteer advocates for the at-risk youth population were recruited and trained under the care of the Dependency Court. In 2010, due to statewide budget cuts and a growing donor pool, CASA of Los Angeles established itself as a non-profit organization.
As of January, there were 31 CASA volunteers in Santa Clarita out of a total 764 in LA County. Across the nation there are 949 community-based CASA programs and over 76,000 volunteers serving 251,000 children. CASA of Los Angeles operates out of the two courthouses that address children’s dependency issues in LA County: the Edmund D. Edelman’s Children’s Court in Monterey Park and the Alfred J. McCourtney Juvenile Justice Center in Lancaster. CASA regularly holds information sessions in Santa Clarita.
To learn more about CASA of LA’s work and becoming a volunteer, visit: http://casala.org/volunteer/.
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