BEING THE VOICE FOR A CHILD

by Donna McBride, Program Administrator/PIO and Supervisor for the CASA Unit, Pinal County Juvenile Court, Casa Grande City Councilwoman

Across the nation, Americans celebrated Black History Month in February. And CASA of Pinal County recognizes the positive difference that our advocates of color have made to children in the foster care system.

Sisters Bridgette Gibson and Deborah Hollman, of Coolidge, along with Casa Grande resident Rick Moody are three residents who may never be mentioned years from now in any history books, but they are making a tremendous difference in the lives of abused or neglected children in the foster care system.

These children have already faced tough situations, and entering the foster care system can be traumatic. When a child is placed in a culturally different setting, it is even more challenging. They aren’t just removed from their homes but removed from their schools, community, place of worship, etc.

The overall wellness of every child is important to CASA advocates. Bridgette and Deborah have volunteered with CASA together for nine years. Both have served as exceptional resources in this area by sharing their life experiences and cultural knowledge. They have bridged the gap to help staff and volunteers learn better ways to provide quality care for children of color. Rick Moody has also been an asset by serving as a role model and ambassador to the CASA program.

In Arizona, African American children are over represented in the state’s foster care system. Statewide, 5 percent of the child population is African American, but 15.4 percent of the children removed from their homes are African American. There is no evidence that African American children are abused or neglected at higher rates compared to children of other races and ethnicities. It is important that the CASA volunteer pool reflect the children who are underserved. Unfortunately, only 4 percent of the more than 1,000 volunteers in Arizona are African American.

CASA volunteers are specifically trained to advocate for children in foster care. Volunteer advocates get to know the child and speak to everyone involved in the child’s life, including family members, teachers, doctors, lawyers, social workers and others. The information they gather and their recommendations help the court overseeing the cases to make informed decisions. CASA volunteers commit to a child until the case is closed and the child is in a safe, permanent home.

CASA advocates must be sensitive to cultural differences and help foster parents work through the issues the child is facing by being positive role models for children in care. We all like to think we’re color blind, but the reality is unless you’ve walked in the shoes of someone who has faced discrimination or not fitting in, you really don’t understand the challenges a child of color experiences when he or she has been uprooted and placed in a strange setting.

And so, while we often celebrate the many faces of history like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. during Black History Month, let us not forget the names of CASA Advocates Bridgette Gibson, Deborah Hollman or Rick Moody. For these selfless, caring volunteers are making history of their own by creating a safe environment for children of color. They are for the child.