It’s Halloween and that got me thinking about a costume that’s hard to take off, and brings almost nothing but tricks to those forced to wear it: being a foster child.
Los Angeles has a massive challenge caring for the 30,000 foster youth in the system, helping children forced into a role they’re unused to and which can be terrifying, unstable and which leads to many tragic outcomes.
One charitable organization in particular, CASA of Los Angeles, provides services, attention and advocacy that can drastically improve, and even save, the lives of foster children.
CASAs (Court Appointed Special Advocates) are appointed by a judge to what are oftentimes the direness cases: children with prior maltreatment or contact with child welfare, cases of extreme abuse or neglect, or those where there is a great level of risk of further abuse and neglect. Many children assigned to CASA have learning disabilities, physical disabilities, and significant emotional and mental health problems.
A CASA works with everyone that touches that child’s life, from their social worker, to their educator and doctor, examining what will best work to give that child a life path that will help them to succeed. Sometimes this is simply finding them a bed to sleep in on a reliable basis. Other times it’s working to reunite them with family, or to secure medical attention where it’s drastically needed. A CASA covers a lot of ground.
The statistics for foster youth in Los Angeles are disturbing. Of youths that age out of the foster system:
* Less than half will have a high school diploma or GED.
* Half will be unemployed.
* One in four will have been incarcerated, primarily for prostitution and/or drug offenses.
* At least 40 percent will have been homeless for some period of time.
* One in four will have become a parent before the age of 20.
CASAs greatly help to avoid these outcomes. Not every case has a happy ending, but the odds dramatically improve when a child has a CASA. This year
CASA will serve 1,000 foster children with intensive advocacy services. We can all do the math, and it’s obvious more volunteers and more support is needed.
Dan Hanley is the chief development officer for CASA of Los Angeles.