When I began as a CASA volunteer there were not many sanctioned ways to help the struggling children I was working with. Many restrictions applied (children were not allowed in my car, no hamburgers, no toys, etc).
I understood the liability issues but could not abide by so many fearful regulations and did generally what seemed like the right thing to do for the very unhappy and disoriented child in my caseload.
Today I see more and more CASA programs thinking outside the box and providing ways for their volunteers to get more involved with the youth they serve as this Voices For Children Program in California demonstrates
Looking back at the overly stressed child protection system I volunteered in, children need a consistent caring adult in their lives.
For several of the children in my caseloads, I was that person as the other adults (social workers, foster parents, educators and health care people people) came and went over the years.
As economic chaos continues to shrink nonprofit & community resources for abused and neglected children, the need for CASA volunteers, staff, and directors to build successful programs that can put a consistent caring adult into the life of the children they serve is ever greater.
CASA is most often the only voice a child has once in our overburdened court system. The program is perfect for discovering people that want to help children. Do you support the CASA program in your community?
Many new and useful possibilities are being provided to children caught up in the child protection system as organizations like CASA to fill these needs.
Often, the CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) is the only consistent adult in the child’s life and can make a world of difference just by being there.
CASA volunteers are making a huge difference in the lives of abused children. Tell your friends.
Volunteers act like parents foster children never had
BY SHARON A. HEILBRUNN, SPECIAL TO THE UNION-TRIBUNE
THURSDAY, JULY 22, 2010 AT MIDNIGHT
PEGGY PEATTIE / UNION-TRIBUNE
Candace Kaimuloa is going to college. She shyly chose a quilt from a shelf at Target while shopping for dorm accessories with her Voices for Children advocate Genevieve Rohan. Kaimuloa is also graduating from the foster care system.
– PEGGY PEATTIE / U-T
Candace Kaimuloa gets a push on a bicycle at Target from her Voices for Children advocate Genevieve Rohan during a shopping excursion to get ready for college.
VOICES FOR CHILDREN
What: Volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocates for foster children
Where : 2851 Meadow Lark Drive, San Diego, CA 92123
Who : People interested in volunteering should contact Susan Smith at (858) 598-2235
It was a frame. A black frame, with multiple spots for pictures and the word “Family” in large letters at the top.
Most teenagers would pass right over it while shopping. It didn’t have any bling. It wasn’t terribly stylish. Heck, it wasn’t even in the right aisle at Target. It was abandoned in the furniture section by a previous shopper, and it caught foster teen Candace Kaimuloa’s eye.
Something the teen barely had.
She looked at Genevieve Knych-Rohan and said, clearly: “I want to buy this.”
For the past six years, Knych-Rohan, 46, has been the family Kaimuloa, 18, never had. The two met when Knych-Rohan, a recruiter for a local biotech company who is married and has two stepsons, became a Court Appointed Special Advocate to Kaimuloa and three of her brothers through the nonprofit organization Voices for Children. The organization pairs volunteer advocates with foster children in the region to identify and advocate for their needs.
“It’s different from being a mentor or Big Brother or Sister figure, because CASAs have court orders,” said Kim Penny, vice president of marketing and development for Voices for Children. “They are assigned by the court for this child’s case. They have access to court reports, school reports — really, access to all aspects of the child’s life.”
Special advocates spend a minimum of 10 hours a month with their foster child. They advocate for anything from eyeglasses and braces to transportation to and from school events.
The individualized attention can sometimes be difficult for social workers to provide.
“Social workers have a high caseload and are responsible for many children and their families, and are therefore not able to focus attention on one child at a time,” said Penny, who noted there are nearly 6,000 children in San Diego County’s foster care system.
“Voices for Children has a huge impact on what I do as a social worker,” said Steven Wells, a senior protective services worker with the county’s Child Welfare Services Department. “It’s really important that CASAs are around because they’re charged with keeping an eye on everything the child needs.
But it’s the intangibles that sometimes make the most difference.
It is the special advocate who celebrates a foster child’s birthday when parents don’t call or visit. It is the special advocate who is on the sidelines when a foster child plays his first soccer game and has no family in the stands. It is the special advocate who helps a teen with relationship issues in high school or does her hair before prom.
“The CASA is often the only consistent adult in the child’s life,” Penny said.
On a recent trip to Target, Knych-Rohan accompanied Kaimuloa as she picked out items for her college dorm room at University of California Davis. It was a first for Kaimuloa, who was using money she won from an essay contest to make the purchases.
“I’ve never been able to choose before,” she said as she eyed an aisle of linens, her smile exposing two dimples. “I’ve never been able to pick out what I wanted.”
She was learning about things like thread counts and closet organizers from Knych-Rohan, who insisted on snapping her photo in the aisles of Target and embarrassing her the way any mother would to a daughter about to go to college.
Kaimuloa is thankful for those pictures. Without Knych-Rohan, Kaimuloa would have nothing to fill the frame she found. Knych-Rohan began taking pictures of Kaimuloa and her brothers the day she met them, when Kaimuloa was 12 and her parents could no longer care for her.
Now, there are pictures of Knych-Rohan with Kaimuloa and her brothers at the zoo, ice skating, bowling, surfing and golfing. There are pictures of the family clowning around and supporting one another at school events.
Sometimes, Knych-Rohan was the only link between Kaimuloa and her brothers, as the family was separated into different group homes when they entered the foster care system.
“The court suggested the kids get together one hour, once a week,” Knych-Rohan said. “Invariably, there would be at least one or two of the kids who wouldn’t be brought. So I started picking up the older boys and bringing them to the family visits.”
Knych-Rohan tears up as she thinks about her relationship with the Kaimuloa children.
“In the beginning, they didn’t have a lot of motivation,” Knych-Rohan said. “Nobody checked on their homework, no one cared if they got good or bad grades. No one would come for their open houses at school.
“So I made a bigger deal about helping them get good grades and helping them with projects,” she continued. “I went to their open houses. They are so appreciative that someone cares enough to meet their teacher or talk to them on the phone. There are a lot of children who just don’t have one person they can call when they need to talk something through.”
Kaimuloa remembers the hesitation that came with allowing someone new into her life.
“At first I had a wall,” she said. “Why should I trust her? She’s just like everyone else that comes in and out of my life. But then she was consistently in my life. And I learned she was a volunteer, and she was taking time out of her day to spend time with us. I never expected that, and she was very happy. That helped us be happy.”
Knych-Rohan encouraged Kaimuloa, who missed fifth, sixth and seventh grade, to go back to school. She agreed, and was forced to take special education classes to catch up. She later took honors and Advanced Placement courses and served on the Associated Student Body, the school’s TV station, the volleyball, basketball and track teams and homecoming court.
“If I didn’t have Genevieve, I don’t think I would have been so successful in everything I’ve done,” Kaimuloa said. “I never thought I’d have anyone in my life that cared about me long enough to help me with anything. She’s like my mom. She was more of a mom to me than my own mom.”