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Child advocates are sworn in as demand for volunteers grows in Santa Maria

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Posted at 10:48 PM, Oct 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-25 02:48:58-04

A non-profit child advocacy group is looking for dozens of volunteers in the Santa Maria Valley.

Ten court-appointed special advocates were sworn in at Santa Maria Juvenile Court on Monday.

They’re setting out to make sure that abused and neglected children have someone looking out for them.

The newly sworn-in CASA volunteers are looking to make a difference in a child’s life in northern Santa Barbara County.

“It’s up to us to be the voice of the kids,” said volunteer Gicela Mendez.

“150 kids on the wait list— they need an advocate,” added Jamie Foxen. “These kids are victims of abuse and neglect and sometimes the social workers just have too much on their plate.”

CASA stands for court-appointed special advocates. Volunteers are tasked with building one-on-one relationships with foster youth and other children in need.

“Usually, before they meet their CASA volunteer, they’ve already been through three social workers,” said Kim Colby Davis, the CASA Santa Barbara County Executive Director. “Social workers have their own mandates, and they are tasked with working with an entire family.”

CASA says its volunteers become experts on the child’s needs.

The goal is to make sure that someone is listening and working to keep them safe.

“I’m really grateful that I grew up in a really healthy and happy home. I think every single child should get that opportunity,” said Foxen.

“A lot of these kids do not have someone that actually cares about them or cares about what they have to say—what their favorite color is—if they like a certain toy or not,” added Mendez.

Volunteers regularly report to Santa Maria Juvenile Court so the judge has a better sense of what the child is going through.

“During the time period that covid was with us in a significant way—our volunteer recruitment dropped by about 25 percent and that was over three years---so 25 percent three years in a row,” explained Davis.

CASA of Santa Barbara County says it will need 90 more volunteers over the next six months to make sure that every child in need has an advocate.

“I just want to make sure that those kids who are out there that have it very tough don’t end up in bad situations when they do get older,” said Mendez. “If we can be there for them when they’re kids, I feel like it’s gonna affect them in the long run. “

Volunteers, meanwhile, are hitting the ground running and will begin the process of selecting a child this week.

“It’s finding that delicate balance of being their friend but also looking out for their best interest,” said Foxen. “I’m an only child— I’ve always wanted to be a big sister so this is really exciting for me.”

Volunteers can expect a workload of about 10 to 12 hours a month until their child gets into a stable environment.

Volunteers are asked to commit to 18 months since that’s the average time it takes for youth to leave the foster system.

If you want to volunteer, you can contact CASA’s training manager, Tina Fisher, at (805)868-8890. You can also send an email to tina@sbcasa.org.