Do you have free time, a good heart and want to do something to improve the lives of children?
If so, CASA of Merced County is looking for volunteers.
Cathie Lancaster, executive director of CASA of Merced County, made a presentation to Sunrise Rotary members this week about the need for volunteers to help children in foster care.
CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocate, which is what volunteers become after going through the training to learn how to advocate for foster children in the justice system. They work with individual youth, get to know them and their needs and then provide guidance to juvenile court judges, attorneys, doctors and other authorities on their cases. After training they are sworn officers of the court.
“These children come into foster care through no fault of their own. The people who should love and take care of them are unable to do so for whatever reason, mental health, drug abuse, homelessness,” Lancaster said.
The idea is that having somebody that cares for them and advocates for their well-being will help them get through a difficult situation and go on to have a happy, healthy life.
Otherwise, foster youth face a dim future after leaving home and going out on their own. Lancaster went through the statistics: one in five will end up homeless, 50 percent never graduate high school and one in four will be incarcerated at some point in their lives. Nearly 70 percent of young women in foster care end up pregnant by age 21.
“It’s very heart-wrenching for these kids,” she said. “Who teaches them how to drive? Who helps them get ready for prom? They don’t have people that do that.”
“But, if they’re lucky, they get assigned a CASA volunteer,” she said.
Currently there are 800 kids in foster care in Merced County, Lancaster said, a number which skyrocketed during the pandemic. Right now there are only 117 CASA advocates in the county.
Training includes attending an information session, followed by an interview and 30 hours of classroom training and five hours of courtroom observation.
The training to become a CASA volunteer is demanding, but Lancaster said the benefits for those who commit their time is worth it.
Call CASA of Merced County at (209) 722-2272 or visit online at www.mercedcasa.org.