Who among us can stand alone? That’s a painful proposition for most adults, but for children, it is an unimaginably cruel prospect. Kids need someone in their corner, someone who can guide them, bolster them and stand up for them when they are unable to stand up for themselves. In Delaware and Chester counties, children are fortunate to have Impact100 Philadelphia 2016 grant recipient CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) Youth Advocates to step into the breach when their families are not able to provide a stable environment.
It is not a pretty picture when families unravel. The explosion in addiction issues and reduction in mental health services have left increasing numbers of children in untenable situations. When the court system becomes involved, through various social service or school referrals, a CASA Youth Advocate can become a life-saving option for local boys and girls. Their mission is to speak for the best interests of abused and neglected children who are involved in the child welfare system. CASA believes that every child has the right to live in a safe, permanent and nurturing environment, but this goal does not always translate into reality. Not every story has a home with a white picket fence as the final chapter. Many children live in group or foster homes, move often and do not have a level of consistency in their lives, except for their CASA volunteer. Not many problems have a quick fix. In some cases, CASA Youth Advocates spend years helping vulnerable children navigate a complicated judicial system that can be daunting for an adult with resources. For a child, this may truly serve as a lifeline for a lifetime.
The Impact100 Philadelphia grant was awarded to expand the CASA Youth Advocates of Delaware County program, and as a result of our funding, the organization has increased services significantly. The key to their success was the recruitment of additional volunteers, made possible by full time staff support and aggressive outreach throughout the community. At CASA, there is no such thing as a typical volunteer: they enlist a wide range of professionals, stay-at-home parents, retirees, law enforcement officials and caring individuals to serve. Training is rigorous. In addition to a comprehensive application and screening process, 35 hours of education in child development, effects of emotional trauma, cultural competence and the child welfare process are mandatory. Volunteers also learn about courtroom procedures and expectations, and how to put their best foot forward on behalf of the children they serve. In an environment where all other stakeholders are attorneys, CASA wants to make sure volunteers can navigate the legal system appropriately. CASA Youth Advocates also receive 12 hours of in-service training in cooperation with colleagues from across the state.
When children are supervised by the court system, geographical boundaries and time commitments blur. If these children have an assigned CASA volunteer, the Youth Advocate works with them regardless of changes in residence. Their goal is to establish a real relationship. Many Delaware and Chester county volunteers are responsible for local kids who have been moved to new locations throughout Pennsylvania. Proximity may change, but the commitment remains until the child being served is reunited with parents, permanently placed in a home or reaches the age of majority. Read more about the special bond between local children and CASA Youth Advocate volunteers.
A challenging aspect for any nonprofit is necessary long term planning within the institution. CASA Youth Advocates transitioned into a more stable organization approximately a decade ago, and carefully considered staffing and personnel requirements. Gradually, the part time Executive Director became full time, and was able to expand staff without compromising financial solvency. Their organizational plan, to hire with an eye towards promotion by, offering additional training and advancement, paid dividends when a new Executive Director was recruited internally. CASA Youth Advocates has been able to continue their mission of service to children without skipping a beat.
Although there is great cooperation among all of the CASA chapters throughout the country, unfortunately, not all areas are served. Less than half of Pennsylvania’s counties have an active CASA organization. Future goals include expansion into Montgomery and Bucks Counties, but turning this goal into reality is a political process. The CASA Youth Advocate staff is determined to grow and serve as many children as possible, so more volunteers are always needed. If you are interested in learning about advocating for CASA Youth Advocate expansion or serving as a Youth Advocate, click HERE. Their door is open to anyone who can lend a hand.