ENCINITAS — According to a Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative study, 3 percent of foster youth will earn a college degree and 20 percent become homeless after they turn 18 years old.
San Diego nonprofit Voices for Children aims to change that by matching foster children with Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASAs.
The organization held a panel Tuesday night at The Encinitas Community Center to raise awareness for their CASA program.
CASAs are volunteers from the community who are matched with a foster child and spend about 10 to 15 hours a month with them.
The volunteers advocate for the child’s best interest in court and are often the only stable adult presence in their life.
“Because of the nature of the position, you are an advocate so you’re really there as a professional on the case to advocate for the best interests of the child and you have an obligation to be objective,” Megan Ray, senior volunteer Training Coordinator with Voices for Children told the crowd of about 70.
“The role is very different from being a mentor. Of course, we hope that you develop that relationship with your child,” she said.
Voices for Children staff hope to pair every eligible foster child with a CASA by 2017.
About 5,000 children go through the San Diego County foster system annually.
Currently, there are about 1,500 volunteers and 80 percent are females.
Ray said more male volunteers and more Spanish-speaking volunteers are needed.
Two foster children spoke Tuesday about the influence their CASA had in their lives.
Raymond, a 19-year-old foster youth, said he wouldn’t be doing as well in school without his CASA.
“I’d probably be another year behind,” he said.
He’s currently attending community college and plans on transferring to a four-year college. His dream is Harvard University.
“To have someone who actually cares about me when I haven’t had someone like that before, it just gives me a warm feeling,” Raymond said of his CASA volunteer.
Another teen, Karin who had been in the foster care since she was 7 years old, agreed about the importance of a CASA.
During her sophomore year of high school, Karin moved foster homes and switched schools.
“No one else had stuck around to just help me move and help me process what I was going through and I guess, it just made me feel a lot of gratitude for having her in my life,” Karin said.
In order to be eligible to be a CASA volunteer, a person needs to be 21 years or older, and must be able to commit to a minimum of 18 months.
On average, a CASA volunteer meets with their foster child two to three times a month.
County Supervisor Dave Roberts, who is an adoptive parent of six children, spoke at the event about the importance of the volunteer program.
“I think CASAs are angels on earth, as I do San Diego County social workers, because they give so much of their selves to really try and make a difference,” Roberts said.
Voices for Children started in 1980 and is the only nonprofit designated by the Court to run the volunteer program. They just expanded to Riverside County.
The organization offers CASA training every month and also holds different fundraisers throughout the year.
More information can be found online at speakupnow.org.