Many children in foster care in our county are in desperate need of help and understanding.
When a child enters the foster care system because his or her home is no longer safe, a judge appoints a committed volunteer to advocate for the child in court and other settings. That kind and caring person is a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA).
CASA Advocates work to help children who have been removed from their home and placed in foster care due to abuse or neglect to learn to adapt and thrive in a new and strange world. CASA volunteers speak up for the best interest of a child, sometimes too young to voice his or her wants and needs.
In Montgomery County in 2014, there were 668 children in the custody of the Department of Family and Protective Services due to abuse or neglect. 215 CASA volunteers served 606 of those children.
Latinos comprise the largest minority group in the United States. In Montgomery County, Hispanic or Latino citizens make up almost 23% of the county’s population. 16% of the children served by CASA Child Advocates of Montgomery County in 2014 were Latino. However, only 5% of CASA volunteers were Hispanic or Latino.
Children in foster care are moved among foster homes and must adjust to different environments. They do need someone to give them a voice. They need a consistent, caring adult. For children of Latino and Hispanic heritage, it is particularly important that their Advocate understands their individual needs. It is comforting to the child if the CASA volunteer is familiar with and respects their culture. Living in the foster care system is already complicated. If English is not a child’s primary language, the experience can be overwhelming. In these cases, a bilingual CASA Advocate can prove vital in bridging the gap for the child.
Cultural competency is more than overcoming a possible language barrier. Sensitivity to traditions and values builds trust between the CASA volunteer and the child. Understanding how children feel about their heritage and being able to communicate and relate to their traditions can make the difference between the child feeling alone and perhaps frightened, or cared for and confident.
We rejoice in our success stories, and you can add another to the long list. Dare to speak up for a child!
If we could offer a more diverse volunteer base, we could better match the cultural makeup of the children CASA serves, but a shortage of Hispanic and Latino volunteers makes it difficult to attempt to meet those needs.
Hispanic and Latino cultures have one very important value in common—a deep and abiding passion and love for family. Although these children come from an abusive background, their need for some familiarity in their life remains unshaken. You can extend your heart to a child, be a guiding light in the wilderness, and earn the trust and respect of a child in need—and moreover the knowledge that you helped make a lifelong difference in a child’s life.
Children deserve love and protection. We need your help to give them the safe, permanent homes they deserve.