Lancaster CASA Making a Difference for Children in Foster Care

Local Chapter Seeks Latino Volunteers to Help Underserved Population

By Joe Benish

Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Lancaster County, Inc. last year served 173 children of the more than 600 children in foster care in Lancaster County, including about 20 percent who are Latino-Hispanic. Yet only about 2 percent of CASA volunteers are Hispanic, according to CASA Lancaster Executive Director Jessica L. Laspino.child in court 09_CASA_468_HI

“The high Hispanic-Latino population in Lancaster County means that we have a high percentage of underserved children who would need a CASA volunteer who understands their language and culture in order to be most effective,” Laspino explains. “Simply put, we want and need to see more Latino-Hispanic volunteers so we can provide a CASA for every child who needs one,” she says.

CASA trains volunteers to advocate on behalf of the best interest of children in foster care; children who have experienced abuse and neglect so severe they must be removed from their homes.

“Unfortunately child abuse and neglect knows no boundaries. It affects all ethnic groups, socio-economic levels and families of every background,” Laspino explains. “We need the help of every group to ensure the children who find their way into foster care can have a consistent, compassionate role model who can relate and look out for them.”

The juvenile justice system, including Children & Youth Services and foster care, with whom CASA works, can be an intimidating and complicated system to navigate, even for adults. It’s a system that can be even more confusing for a child who finds him or herself in foster care through no fault of their own. CASA’s volunteer advocates work to ensure a safe and permanent home for the child as soon as possible. Serving as an extension of the “eyes and ears” of the dependency judge, CASA volunteers help children navigate “the system” with care and compassion.

CASA volunteer advocates provide court reports to the judge to help aid in the decision about where that child will live, providing essential information to the court about what is in the best interest of the child.

child group Casa05t0020E-hThe CASA system works. Statistics show that children with a CASA volunteer are more likely to find a safe and permanent home, spend less time in foster care, do better in school and receive more help while in the foster care system.

While CASA of Lancaster County served 173 children in 2014, there were more than 600 in the foster care system. By the end of March 2015, CASA Lancaster had already served 135 children. CASA’s bold vision for the future is to recruit and train enough volunteers by the year 2020 to have a CASA for every child in foster care in the county.

The volunteer nature of CASA advocates is readily evident in Lancaster CASA statistics: between January 2010 and December 2014, 111 trained volunteer advocates were appointed to cases in Lancaster County, donating 13,545 hours to their cases and logging in 122,130 donated miles driven on behalf of the children they served.

CASA volunteers complete a required 30-hour training course and must complete a series of background clearances prior to being appointed to a child. In April, CASA Lancaster saw 31 new volunteer advocates sworn in – its largest class ever.   With an annual budget of more than $412,000, CASA Lancaster, Inc. relies on grants, special events (including corporate sponsorships) and donations from individuals as well as community and faith-based organizations for its funding. Some 77 percent of its strategic expenditures go directly to program services.

CASA’s stated vision is to ensure that every child who is abused or neglected will have a safe, permanent home and the support to become a healthy, empowered adult, thereby breaking the cycle of abuse and neglect.

To learn more about how you can be a part of the CASA movement to make Lancaster County a place where every child – regardless of background – can grow up in a home free of abuse and neglect, contact CASA Lancaster, Inc. at (717) 208-3280 or casa@casalancaster.org.

child with volunteer 09_CASA_109_HI

Joe Benish

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