Right here in our community there are abused and neglected children who live in the shadows of our lives. She may be the little girl in your son’s kindergarten class who had to move homes and change schools three or four times in the last year. He may be the lonely child at the park who doesn’t join the game.
The foster care and child welfare system is full of compassionate lawyers, judges, social workers and foster families, but according to recent statistics, each year roughly 400 children are placed in foster care right here in our community. This intense need can strain the system to the point where it is simply unable to protect the rights of each child. So the little girl, who has already suffered in an abusive home, enters the foster care system, which places her in three or four different homes in just a few months. Or the two siblings who lost their mother to incarceration are split up and end up living on opposite sides of town.
This isn’t just a problem; it is nothing short of a violation of their human rights. A child cannot defend his or her own rights, but a CASA volunteer can!
Court Appointed Special Advocates of Central Oregon is a nonprofit organization that trains and supports volunteers — people like you and me — to speak and act as advocates for the best interests of abused and neglected children. They are trained to work within the child welfare and family court systems and are appointed by judges to individual cases. With the help of a CASA volunteer, a child is half as likely to languish in foster care and much more likely to find a safe and permanent home.
I have seen firsthand the transformative impact a CASA volunteer can have on a child. Without his CASA volunteer, who has stood by him for over a decade, my foster son would not be the confident, thriving young man he is today. His CASA volunteer is an inspiring example of the major positive impact we can have on the lives of kids in need when we are willing to fight for and protect their fundamental right to be safe, to be treated with dignity and respect and to learn and grow in the safe embrace of a loving family.
But right now, 32 children do not have access to a CASA volunteer. We are dedicated to ensuring that each and every child in the foster care and child welfare system has a qualified CASA volunteer looking out for their best interests. To do this, we must significantly increase our volunteer base here in Central Oregon.
Every child has a right to thrive, to be treated with dignity, and to live in a safe, loving home. Every child deserves a fighting chance. Once grown, these former foster youths could be our future doctors, teachers and leaders. Coming through a period of vulnerability and fear, the child can then understand his potential and his rights. She will believe in herself. That is our incredible opportunity, our challenge and our obligation as a society.
I invite you, my fellow Central Oregonians, to stand up with me and support these children. There are all kinds of ways to get involved. Go to CASAofCentralOregon.org and see how you can make a difference.