Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Today at 3:27 p.m. / Community
CASA will use $25,000 donation for volunteer recruitment and fill the funding gap
A donation of $25,000 will allow local CASA volunteers to continue adFunting for foster youth in Del Norte County.
But while this donation from the Caldwell Clan Fund will allow the non-profit organization to continue operating until it receives its County Community Development Block Grant, it is in dire need of volunteers, said the executive director Christine Slette.
Representing court-appointed special advocates, CASA volunteers help guide children in foster care, including those who are abused and neglected by the justice system. But the number of volunteers has dwindled during the COVID-19 pandemic, Slette told the Wild Rivers Outpost.
Before the pandemic, between 30 and 50 percent of young adoptees in Del Norte County had a CASA advocate. Now, of the roughly 130 to 140 people who are in the foster care system, about 23 have a CASA, she said.
“Our volunteer recruitment effort is ongoing and unfortunately it costs a lot of money to continually advertise and raise awareness and try to recruit more,” Slette said. “It’s always an ongoing effort.”
CASA de Del Norte has a memorandum of understanding with the court to advocate for children who go through the foster care system. An attorney works with the adoptive parent, social services and educators on behalf of the child they are assigned to, according to Slette. This includes ensuring the educational, medical and mental health needs of their charge are met, she said.
CASA volunteers are impartial. They do not work for the court and have no ties to foster families or a child’s family, Slette said. CASA advocates are able to independently investigate the circumstances surrounding a foster child’s case and ensure that they do not fall through the cracks, he said. she stated.
“We still have a policy that anyone can call us anytime and can reach us through our website, CASADN.org, and there’s a contact form and they can send it to us and we’ll arrange a briefing,” Slette said. “Volunteering with CASA is also a great resume booster. You get lots of free training, lots of hands-on experience with child welfare and at-risk kids and kids in general.
CASA’s paid staff are there to support the volunteers, Slette said. She noted that while social workers will have 25 to 30 cases, a CASA attorney may be assigned to one or two children. A CASA defender can sometimes work with siblings, she said.
“We’re a pretty high-quality program and we have a formal court filing process,” she said. “We have to meet the hearing dates and the volunteers have the full support of the staff to do all of this. That’s why we have paid staff.
The Del Norte County Board of Supervisors has historically awarded $235,000 in CDBG dollars to CASA approximately every two years, according to Slette. At this time, she said, she has no idea when the organization will receive its 2021 funding, she said.
Del Norte County was recently notified that it had received a grant from CDBG, Administrative Services Director Toni Self said, but it is waiting for the state to release its standard agreement for the county. It could take about 90 days. The oversight board will then decide how to allocate those dollars, she said.
CASA also receives funding from a Crime Victim Assistance Grant from the California Bureau of Emergency Services.
He also received $5,000 from Walmart, according to Slette. She said CASA of Del Norte will use her for their Making Memories program.
“This program helps us identify the needs of any foster child and it’s not just the children that CASA serves. It’s any foster child who has a need that’s out of the box,” Slette said. “We used funds to help a child travel to Disneyland with his adoptive parents. Sometimes they just don’t have the money to pay for five kids to go to Disneyland, so if we can help support that adoptive parent, that takes some of the pressure off them.
CASA’s Making Memories program is also used for local activities, such as a trip to Trees of Mystery, or getting a teenager a bike so they can get to work, Slette said.
“We helped another child get stuff for his house,” she said. “She had to go home with their grandparents and she had nothing for them. So we used funds to buy bedding and stuff for a bedroom.
Dr Kevin Caldwell, who forms the Caldwell clan with his wife, Dr Donna Sound, said CASA has always been on his list of organizations doing “good things in the community”. Over the years they’ve sponsored CASA’s annual golf tournament, but felt they wanted to do more, Caldwell told the Outpost.
“If society wants to survive, we need to make sure children succeed,” he said of CASA. “And they’re like the safety net to catch the most distressed children.”
CASA of Del Norte County will be at the Labor Day Bash on Saturday at SeaQuake. A raffle will support both CASA and the Humane Society of Del Norte. People can also find out more about volunteering for CASA if they attend the Labor Day Bash.