Too many foster kids are in need of advocates
They are supposed to be friends, confidants and people who watch out for the best interests of children going through the juvenile court system.
Fourteen new Court Appointed Special Advocates were sworn-in during solemn proceedings March 18 to join about a hundred others who represent children of all ages in court settings.
But so many more CASA advocates are needed to represent the more than 600 children with a variety of special situations that unfold in Merced County courtrooms.
Those sworn-in last week by Presiding Merced County Superior Court Judge Donald Proietti included Marina Aguilar, Gini Asai, Adam Castro, Corinne Clay, Elyse Gittens, Carissa Hansford, Sharon Irvin, Dondi Lawrence, Diana Lowrance, Dr. Lyssabeth Mattoon, Steven Maxey, Josefina Orozco, Jill Reyna-Canales and Mohsen Torabi.
Also receiving the oath of office was new CASA board member James Broadley.
The new advocates just completed a 30-hour training program which covered the CASA volunteer role, the law, child protective system and the courts, developing cultural competence, understanding children and families, communicating as a CASA volunteer and practicing the volunteer role, gathering information, court report-writing and monitoring a case.
Many of the situations Proietti encounters are sobering but two aspects are happy, pleasant experiences. They involve occasions where children are adopted by loving families, often with a courtroom full of balloons, cheers and rejoicing.
“The next happy occasion is this one, where people try to make a child’s life better,” Proietti says, “I’m happy to know there are concerned adults willing to give their time and be a voice for that child.”
Transparency prevails in most Superior Court proceedings, but not in Juvenile Dependency Court. Proietti said the proceedings are almost secret and the public is not welcome to come in and watch. Everything is confidential.
New CASA advocate Dr. Lyssabeth Mattoon is a clinical psychologist and trauma specialist with Embracing Resilience Psychological Services in Merced. She grew up in Merced and ultimately received her doctorate from the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology in Palo Alto.
From a young age Mattoon says other students would approach her for help with serious problems. This mainly began in middle school and continued through high school, confirming what she feels is “a calling from day one.”
Students would approach her with desires to kill themselves, avoid gang involvement, tell about situations of abuse or neglect or if they had become pregnant.
“I’m passionate about this,” Mattoon says. “I love helping people through trauma. I knew I would do counseling services; I just didn’t know what capacity.”
New CASA advocate Josefina Orozco is a senior, a fourth-year student in UC Merced’s psychology studies. She wants to be a psychologist in the community, helping to make a difference with young people. She also wants to pursue her doctorate.
She would like to see more UC Merced students take on the advocacy opportunity and make a difference in kids’ lives.
New CASA volunteer Elyse Gittens has lived in Merced 14 years. A retired Air Force master sergeant who served 24 years at bases throughout the United States, Gittens has been involved with the Merced Organizing Project, literacy efforts at the Merced County Library and other charitable causes.
When she drove around Merced, she would see signs urging people to volunteer with CASA. She believes how we treat our children will determine what kind of country we have.
‘”Sometimes kids need somebody to listen to them and care,” Gittens says. “This is an opportunity to be part of a child’s life at a time when they really need somebody to give a damn about them.”
Adam Castro operates the Luxe Republic salon in Merced. He has done volunteer work for years and believes CASA is a great way to be a part of the community. The biggest part is doing things for the youth who are here.
Cathie Lancaster, CASA executive director, said advocates share joys and tears with those they serve.
“It makes a world of difference to that one child. Your real work starts soon,” Lancaster told the new program graduates in the 28th such orientation program.
Of the 112 CASA advocates, Proietti says only 15 of them are men. At present, all of the needy children can’t be covered. He would like to see the program reach out to those youths in the juvenile delinquency system.
The local CASA organization will observe its 10th anniversary next year. The organization relies on donations and the generous volunteering of time by people in the community to continue its important mission of advocating for safe and permanent homes for abused and neglected children.
For more information, visit the CASA website at MercedCasa.org.