Dear CASA Community,
May is National Foster Care Awareness month. It’s an important time to draw attention to the fact that there are nearly 437,000 children in foster care in the United States. California alone is responsible for over 60,000 of those children; more than twice the number of any other state. Each of these nearly 437,000 children were removed from their home or family of origin due to abuse, neglect, or abandonment. Each of these children experienced the initial trauma which led to their removal, as well as the secondary trauma associated with the loss of their family, friends, school, and community – a loss of all things familiar. And each of these children were ushered into a system wherein they are effectively being raised by governmental entities, to include the court and social services. This “system” was created with a benevolent intention to help; to offer protection from the initial and underlying trauma these children endured, but it is not equipped to raise the nearly 437,000 children within its care, nor is it turning out particularly impressive results.
Nearly 437,000 children in foster care is a crisis, but it’s one that that remains largely unknown or misunderstood. And this crisis does not end upon adulthood or emancipation from the system, because the outcomes for foster youth trend bleak. Nearly 80% of the prison population includes individuals who spent at least some portion of their life in foster care. About 50% of foster youth will not graduate high school; only 15% will attend college, and only 3% will receive a degree. Roughly half of all foster youth will experience homelessness, at least once, after aging out. And the rates of PTSD among foster youth is higher than the rate of PTSD among veterans returning from war.
The CASA model of providing a powerful voice and a meaningful connection to a child in the foster care system is simple, but wildly effective. Studies reveal that even a single positive relationship allows a child to develop crucial coping skills. A CASA volunteer’s presence and involvement communicates to the child that they are not alone, and this single relationship can effectively counteract the negative impact of the trauma that all foster youth have experienced in varying degrees. The benefits that result from the CASA relationship are reflected in the educational outcomes (93% high school graduation rate for foster youth with a CASA vs. general foster youth population), the unique and personalized recommendations that are adopted by the Court, and in myriad other immeasurable ways. During a recent annual survey, foster youth were invited to share what they like most about having a CASA. Some of the responses included:
“Knowing I’m not alone.”
“I have someone to talk to.”
“She’s always checking in on me to see how I’m doing and makes sure I always have resources available.”
“She is fun, she is funny, she makes me feel happy, she brightens my day.”
It is often the smallest act of kindness that results in the most meaningful impact. A CASA volunteer’s sheer presence communicates so much to a child in foster care.
I am perpetually perplexed by how many people I encounter in the community who are unfamiliar with the plight of foster children in our country. They are often unaware of the circumstances that result in a child entering foster care and they are most certainly unaware of the number of children affected on a national and state-wide basis. If you are receiving this newsletter, you are already more aware than most. Thank you for your readiness to be part of a solution, and thank you for recognizing the incredible value and impact of a single positive relationship.
In the spirit of raising awareness, I encourage you to use your personal platform and your voice to educate the people around you about the harsh reality affecting the nearly 437,000 children that are growing up in our foster care system. Awareness is the birthplace of change; it is where we must start. Whether you are a current or former advocate, a donor, supporter, volunteer, or simply one who subscribes to the CASA mission, as a member of our CASA OC community, each of you is an agent of change for foster youth. These children are relying on us to show up for them, and we know that showing up will help make a difference.
Regan Dean Phillips, Esq., MSW
CASA-OC Chief Executive Officer