Monday, January 27, 2020     Volume: 20, Issue: 47
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Santa Maria Sun / Spotlight

The following article was posted on December 10th, 2019, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 20, Issue 41 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 20, Issue 41

A child advocate organization is struggling to meet the community's needs

By ZAC EZZONE

In the midst of facing a rapidly growing need, Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Santa Barbara County received some much-needed assistance through a $56,000 grant from a national organization. As more children in the county are pulled out of rough situations at home and become dependents of the court, CASA is having a hard time keeping up.


HELPING
CASA volunteers look out for the best interest of a child who has been removed from his or her family.
PHOTO COURTESY OF CASA OF SANTA BARBARA COUNTY

There are more than 950 CASA programs throughout the country. Staff members oversee the operation of these organizations, which consist of a network of volunteers who advocate on behalf of a child that a court has removed from his or her home for protection, Santa Barbara County CASA Executive Director Kim Colby Davis said.

“We have consciously grown the program over the last seven years to fulfill our mission of making sure every child facing abuse, neglect, abandonment has a CASA volunteer advocating for them,” Davis said. 

When a court removes a child from his or her home, the court can also appoint a CASA volunteer to look out for the best interest of the child as he or she moves into the foster care system or with other relatives. Davis said this advocacy work includes the volunteer meeting with the adults that a child interacts with consistently—such as teachers, coaches, lawyers, and doctors—and pushing for decisions that are best for the child. 

These decisions could be as complex as advocating for the child to be reunified with his or her family. Or something simpler, like advocating for dental needs or tutoring help with schoolwork, Davis said.

The volunteers who do this work have to undergo 35 hours of training, which CASA administers, and background checks, before being sworn in and made an officer of the court. Although the process of becoming a volunteer can be time-consuming, the actual work requires an average of 12 hours per month. 

Davis said last year CASA was able to serve all 510 children that the court referred to the organization. But this year, the agency is having a hard time keeping up. 

In June, there were no children on the organization’s waitlist. Now, there are more than 100, which is more than twice as many children as were on the waitlist at various times last year. Davis said she applied for the $56,000 sustainability grant from the national CASA program as the organization was experiencing the beginning of this trend.  

This grant funding will allow the organization to increase the number of volunteer classes it offers, which will hopefully result in more volunteers to meet the community’s growing need.

“I see this as a tremendous crisis in the community that goes unseen,” Davis said. “We’re assigning more cases than we ever have before, but we can’t keep up.”

Highlights:

• The city of Santa Maria is holding a town hall meeting at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church on Lincoln Street on Dec. 19. The purpose of this meeting is to give residents in the southwest part of the city a chance to raise concerns and issues. The city’s held three similar meetings in other parts of the city. For more information, visit cityofsantamaria.org.

• The Friends of the Lompoc Library System is holding a decorated tabletop Christmas tree fundraiser until Dec. 14, when the trees are raffled off. Trees are on display at the Lompoc Public Library and the library in Vandenberg Village, and raffle tickets are $1 each. For more information, visit cityoflompoc.com. m

Staff Writer Zac Ezzone wrote this week’s Spotlight. Send news tips to spotlight@santamariasun.com.




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