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CASA changes a child’s story

CASA volunteer Sierra Blanton is sworn in by Judge Janet Hilde in December 2019. Photo submitted

At any given moment in Plumas County, there might be upwards of 70 children under the age of 18 in foster care. The court system can be daunting for adults. Imagine navigating it as a child?

That’s where Plumas CASA — Court Appointed Special Advocates — comes in, giving children who are in foster care and therefore dependents of the court a voice in the process.

CASA volunteers are trained and provide an adult voice, advocating for a child’s needs “to have safe, stable placements, mental and emotional health, appropriate educational services and healthy family connections,” the CASA motto on their website states.

Plumas CASA has been around the county since 2001 and is funded by the California Office of Emergency Services,  the Administrative Office of the Courts along with grants from other foundations and individuals.

In Plumas County there are now 18 trained CASA volunteers, but outgoing program manager Kendrah Frederickson says the organization would like to have 30 volunteers ideally.

Sometimes just being asked to volunteer seems too vague. What does it really mean to volunteer with CASA? Some recent volunteers were open to sharing their experiences.

Sierra Blanton finds working with foster children rewarding and feels strongly that “this is an underserved population in our country and I want to play as big of a role as I can to change the lives of these kids.”

She became a CASA volunteer in December 2019. She says the children that come in contact with her are not very trusting at first because of all the “challenges and hurdles” they’ve had to face, but watching them learn to trust is “something that gives you great honor to witness and be apart of.”

Another volunteer, Bard Sidener, finds “being able to develop a relationship with a child … allows me to be a member of that child’s team. Making a difference in a child’s life also makes a difference in my life. CASA children remind me to listen.”

Suzanne Plopper, who has volunteered for 13 years, feels “The children I have worked with have been a joy to work with. Depending upon their ages and interests, we go on hikes, go swimming, go bike riding, go to lunch, play board games and visit college campuses in the area and as far away as Sacramento and San Francisco.”

There are of course big challenges that both the children and the volunteers have to face.

“The greatest challenges I have experienced have been witnessing the devastation to a child when faced with their parents’ behavior which led to the child’s removal, and witnessing what happens to a child who is moved from foster home to foster home and/or to group homes,” said Plopper. The removal of children from their homes, whatever the reason, can “take a huge toll on their self-esteem,” she continued.

Sidener sees communication as a big challenge in terms of keeping everyone in the loop but maintaining confidentiality at the same time.

“Some of the challenges in becoming a CASA have included always being mindful of what an “advocate” is; being a “voice for a child’s needs” which can include ensuring medical and dental care is provided, that a school age child gets support while in school, said Sidener.

For newcomer Blanton, it’s letting go. “One of the biggest challenges in being a CASA worker is understanding that what you want for your kiddo in terms of outcome might not always be what happens in the end,” said Blanton.

A CASA volunteer meets with the child assigned to the volunteer on a regular basis, reading the case file, contacting the appropriate professionals that might be needed. That means attending court, school meetings, medical appointments and anywhere else advocacy would be important.

The CASA volunteer takes the time to host some sort of structured activity, the same time every week, (to be the consistency in the child’s life). Sometimes children are placed outside of the county, then contact becomes over the phone, too.

“I want it to feel like a break from all the chaos and noise in their life so dinner, grabbing coffee and a treat, going on walks, anything that might spark a little fun and change of scenery for them,” said Blanton.

CASA Volunteers are also responsible for “a written report to the court with an assessment and recommendations about the child’s placement, progress, problems, educational status and unmet service needs, based on the CASA’s observations,” according to its website.

In order to become a CASA volunteer, individuals must be 21 years or older and be able to pass a criminal background check. They must complete 30-plus hours of National CASA Association curriculum along with 12 hours of continuing education training each year that they volunteer.

Interested readers can contact CASA at 283-2227 or 283-5515 or email [email protected].

The Quincy office is open Monday through Wednesday and Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Portola office operates Thursday and Friday, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

“We are the component that will most likely buffer and mitigate the harmful effects of trauma and allow foster children to reach their potential and achieve resilience … the ability to actually recover from adverse experiences and thrive,” said Plopper.

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