Each year approximately 500 children in El Dorado county are court-ordered an adult advocate after being removed from their homes by Child Protective Services. Because there are 100 kids still waiting for a Court Appointed Special Advocate, CASA El Dorado is making a plea for more involvement. They need more volunteers to be advocates and they want to sell out their El Dorado Hills fundraiser on Oct. 4.
According to the CASA El Dorado website, “The heart of our program is the Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA), a specially trained and supervised community volunteer appointed by a family court judge. CASAs make a difference in the lives of abused and neglected children by investigating and monitoring cases involving children in foster care. Our job at CASA El Dorado is to recruit, screen, train and then support the CASA advocates who become sworn-in officers of the court, empowered to serve the needs of this often forgotten population of children.”
Advocates are assigned one or two children at a time. “You pick the case,” CASA El Dorado’s Development Manager Kathy Hurd said. “Sometime it’s a baby, sometimes a teen, sometimes siblings. The role of the advocate is taken very seriously. They have the power to talk to teachers and doctors on behalf of the children.”
Advocates build relationships with the kids, spending time with them and gathering facts about their life to help the judge decide what services are needed. With so many involved parents and many empty nesters in the region, Hurd said she wants to recruit more help here.
To show the power an advocate has, Hurd shared a recent story of a little boy eating with his CASA in a restaurant. “He was taking tiny little bites of his lunch,” she said. “Soon the advocate discovered the boy’s teeth were so bad it hurt him to chew.” The advocate was able to make calls on the child’s behalf to get him a dentist appointment.
Family reunification the CASA program’s goal, but if that’s not possible, advocates can recommend adoption, care with another relative or other placement alternatives that will best suit the child’s needs.
With nine staff members and 200 volunteer advocates, CASA El Dorado serves children from South Lake Tahoe to El Dorado Hills, but they need more. In the greater El Dorado Hills area alone, 40 kids are waiting for a CASA, Hurd said.
In Tahoe there aren’t even enough foster homes, she explained. When this happens, children from El Dorado County get placed in another county. “We need to help the kids in this county,” she said.
“People in every day life don’t think about foster care,” Hurd continued. “I know I didn’t.”
Hurd’s involvement with the organization isn’t a coincidence. The El Dorado Hills mother of two and member of the popular women’s bicycling team Bodacious Babes is one of two women struck and nearly killed by an underage drunk driver while riding in a designated bike lane on El Dorado Hills Boulevard in 2008. Though Kathy suffered several broken bones, including a shattered back, she considers herself the lucky one.
The other cyclist, Kathi Sturgeon, was in a coma for nine days and lives with a traumatic brain injury. She recently moved out of state to live with her brother because she needs more support.
Despite their injuries, the two women didn’t want to see the driver sent to state prison and agreed to a plea bargain, a year in county jail and five years probation. “Once you’re in prison you get hardened,” said Kathy. “We wanted her to turn her life around. She was 19-years-old and drunk at 10 in the morning; that’s not a good thing. It told me something was going on.”
Hurd and Sturgeon began talking to student groups about the dangers of drunk driving and Hurd said she became passionate “about keeping other kids from going down the wrong path.”
“My accident definitely affected my life,” she continued. “Today I sleep better if we’re serving more kids.”
Why CASA helps kids
Based on a national audit of CASA programs mandated by Congress and carried out by the Department of Justice, the CASA El Dorado site states the following:
We know that the following outcomes are possible when a CASA advocate is involved in the life of a foster child:
Hurd said they’d like to go one step further. “We’d like to start serving the aged out,” or those older than 18, she said. “There are kids who are couch surfing. They meet someone and live on their couch for a few days or weeks. With no support system the writing is on the wall; they are going to get in trouble.
“CASA changes lives completely,” she continued. “There’s funding for these kids to go to college, for instance. One of our recent success stories is a boy at UCLA on a full ride. He could’ve followed in his parents’ path, but he wants to be an anesthesiologist. Imagine how many smart foster kids there are, yet 70 percent of California’s prisoners are from foster care and there are 400,000 kids in foster care around the country. With CASA alone we could reduce the prison population.”
Funds from a fundraiser Saturday, Oct. 4, will be used to recruit, train and support advocates. A spin on a Casablanca theme, Hurd hinted, guests will enjoy an elegant reception and dinner, silent and live auctions, Big Band music from 10-member swing band SwingMasters, professional dance performances and swing dance lessons from Capital Dance Center.
“We want to sell this event out,” Hurd said. It will be held from 6 to 11 p.m. at Lakehills Church above the Regal theater. Tickets are $95 per person or $700 for a table.
The next series of advocate classes begin in September. To purchase tickets to the fundraiser and/or to inquire about being an advocate call (530) 622-9882 or visit casaeldorado.org
“CASA is such a great program,” said Hurd. “We’ve got to make it a popular thing to support. A lot of people want to serve but they don’t know how. People sometimes think it means going somewhere far, but we have kids who could use help right here. My goal is to get rid of the waitlist.”