Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) are now required

I grew up in Santa Ana as a first generation American born to immigrant parents from Mexico. I attended schools in Santa Ana and after graduating from Cal State Fullerton, I went on to graduate school at Cal State Long Beach where I am working on a degree in school psychology.

As I learned about child development and worked in the classroom as a teacher’s aide, I discovered a passion for supporting students. I enjoyed collaborating with a team of people to find the best way to meet the needs of students.

It was through my program that I first heard about Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA). CASA trains volunteers to provide a powerful voice and meaningful connection for children who have experienced abuse, neglect and abandonment. I learned that there is a huge need for young men to volunteer because only 15% of CASAs are men and very few of them are under 40 years old. It was a good fit with my studies and I wanted to help fill the gap for young people at CASA who needed male mentors.

CASA provided nearly 40 hours of comprehensive, free training that offered a great insight into the ways youth find themselves in the foster care system. I learned a lot about the impact of trauma and the significant role a CASA can play in helping a young person become more confident and independent. I have learned that there are currently 3,882 Orange County youth in the foster care system, of which 2,835 are currently not served by a CASA. The impact of a CASA on a child’s life has a profound impact on the likelihood that they will graduate from high school and develop a life of independence.

After completing my CASA training, I was paired up with Jorge* who was eight years younger than me and a senior in high school. At first I thought it might be awkward to mentor someone so close to me and I was afraid of not being taken seriously. But I found that I was able to relate to many of the challenges and pressures he faces in school and in his transition to more independence as an adult. I often think about what I needed to know as I was about to graduate from high school and transition into adulthood. Together we focus on ways I can help him develop the skills he needs and build his confidence. We recently navigated getting his DMV ID and set short and long term goals to help him develop the life skills he needs.

I grew up in a bilingual home so Jorge and I communicate in Spanish and English since English is his second language. When there is an opportunity to help her practice her speaking skills or achieve new goals, I try to provide information in both English and Spanish. Currently, more than half of youth in foster care are Hispanic/Latino, but only 12% of CASA volunteers are from a similar ethnic background. There is a huge need for greater diversity within our volunteer team to better represent our youth population.

Throughout my journey as a CASA, I have felt supported and enjoyed collaborating with my CASA case supervisor and with Jorge’s social worker to develop the best ways to support him. The CASA training provided me with the tools I needed to understand the unique needs of CASA youth and I feel they have been there to support me every step of the way.

If you would like to learn more about how you can change a child’s life by volunteering with CASA, please visit www.casaoc.org/volunteer. The process to become a CASA volunteer begins with attending an information session on April 23 or April 27 and submitting an application. Once the application is approved, you are eligible to begin training. The next training session starts on Thursday May 5, so applications must be submitted by May 1.

*Name changed to protect youth privacy

Mario Jaramillo is a first generation American. He attended school in Santa Ana and, after graduating from Cal State Fullerton, went on to graduate school at Cal State Long Beach where he is pursuing a degree in school psychology. He has been CASA for two years.

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