LANCASTER – Two years ago, an Antelope Valley family of 11 was in dire straits. The mother was a pregnant fugitive on the run with a substance abuse problem, and the father was fresh out of prison struggling to care for nine children on his own. The children, ages one to 15, were eventually removed from the home and scattered throughout the county to different foster homes.
Then a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) stepped in.
She collaborated with the social workers, foster care providers, therapists, teachers, attorneys and parents to determine what actions were in the best interest of the children. Additionally, she became a consistent and positive presence in the children’s lives.
Her hard work paid off.
In less than two years, things turned around for the family. The children were returned to their father; and the mother turned herself in to authorities, completed substance abuse classes, and reconnected with her family.
The judge on the case said the children would not have been returned home, had it not been for the CASA volunteer.
“It was one of our favorite success stories that we’ve had,” said Jasmine McClendon, Program Supervisor for CASA Los Angeles’ Antelope Valley office.
The group is hoping for many more success stories in the Antelope Valley. But first, more residents must answer the call to become a powerful voice for abused and neglected children.
What is CASA?
Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) are trained volunteers appointed by dependency judges to advocate for children who have been removed from their homes because of abuse and neglect and are going through the court system. The CASA volunteer gathers information, writes reports and makes recommendations to the judge in the child’s best interest.
The CASA volunteer is also a compassionate, stabilizing force in a child’s life, who works hard to make sure the child’s voice is heard above the noise of an overburdened and short staffed dependency court system.
“Social workers are serving at least 50 families and attorneys are sometimes serving over 200, but CASA advocates usually serve only one to two cases,” said Assistant Program Director Monique Stevens. “So what they have is time and attention to get the detailed information like no one else has the time to do.”
The minimum commitment for a CASA volunteer is two years, Stevens said.
“So the youth can know that’s one thing they can depend on in their life,” she said. “Two years is how long a typical case can take to close; it’s typical for a CASA to remain in the child’s life after the case closes.”
Locally, there are about 50 CASA volunteers in the Antelope Valley, who advocate on behalf of foster children going through the dependency courtroom in Lancaster. That number is not nearly enough, according to Stevens.
“We’re serving about 100 children right now just in this office, but there’re about 1,700 kids that need help up here,” Stevens said. “We’re always looking for more volunteers and always looking for ways to improve our recruitment and raise awareness… we just try to spread the message out there that these children really need advocates.”
CASA is hoping to use April’s Child Abuse Awareness Month to get as many residents as possible to make a difference in the lives of the neediest children by becoming CASA volunteers.
“The experience is very rewarding,” said CASA Volunteer Diana Love. “It’s nice to know that someone feels that you are trustworthy and that they can confide in you and that they feel comfortable, especially when they’ve had such a traumatic life.”
No special educational background is required to become a CASA volunteer. Anyone over the age of 25 who is committed to helping children may apply. CASA volunteers must complete 36 hours of training and then commit an average of 5-6 hours per week to case activities on behalf of the child, which may include attending court hearings, maintaining regular contact with the child, gathering information about the child’s circumstances, and drafting written reports for the judge that detail the recommendations that are best for the child.
“A lot of people come to the program who are retired educators or law enforcement, people who have already found it very rewarding to help their community in a number of ways,” Stevens said. “We have staff members to walk advocates through the cases, so advocates are not alone.”
Become a CASA Volunteer
If you are interested in becoming a CASA volunteer, you must first attend an information session to learn more about the program.
CASA Los Angeles will be holding information sessions on:
- Thursday, April 26, from 12 to 1:30 p.m.
- Wednesday, May 30, from 12 to 1:30 p.m., and
- Thursday, June 28, from 12 to 1:30 p.m.
The information sessions will be held at the Antelope Valley Office for CASA Los Angeles, located at 1040 West Avenue J, Room 1153. For more information, call 661-723-CASA of visit www.casala.org.