After 52 hours of training, 10 new Court Appointed Special Advocates of Kern County are ready to serve as the voice to the voiceless.
CASA of Kern County, a nonprofit organization that provides abused and neglected children with a highly-trained advocate to speak on their behalf throughout court proceedings, is that voice. The voiceless are the approximately 1,900 children living in foster care in Kern County because of abuse or neglect.
CASA celebrated the 81st completion of the training program Wednesday evening with a graduation ceremony, where the new advocates took their oath of office and were sworn in by Presiding Juvenile Court Judge Raymonda Burnham Marquez.
Each of these 10 advocates, all of whom are volunteers, sat in a classroom to learn about the child welfare system, child abuse and neglect, trauma, resilience and mental health, among others, said Maritza Lara-Martinez, Community Outreach Coordinator.
CASAs are sworn officers of the court who represent neglected and abused children throughout the juvenile dependency process, which is when a child is taken from their home because it's not longer safe. They, along with a CASA staff member, provide an independent assessment of the child's circumstances, which turns into a court report presented to a juvenile court judge. These reports are a way for advocates to make recommendations on behalf of the child based on interviews and the details of the child's life. Before every court proceeding, which occur about every six months, an advocate prepares one of these reports.
When a juvenile court judge reviews a case, CASA reports are considered along with social worker reports.
Ian Journey is one of the graduating CASAs. He is most looking forward to being a positive male role model for young boys who are in the system.
"I believe that how we care for children in our society defines our community," Journey said. "It matters."
There are currently 116 active CASAs working on a juvenile dependency case in Kern County, and 225 children are being served, Lara-Martinez said.
"At this moment, we have 43 children waiting for a caring and consistent CASA," Lara-Martinez told The Californian in an email. "That number could very well go up tomorrow."
But that's not the only thing these advocates do — they create relationships and support the children they work with every week. Some CASAs even create positive and trusting relationships with their case children, much like mentors, Lara-Martinez said.
"These children have experienced trauma that they will carry to their graves. If I can be a sliver of hope, no matter how small, I will feel like I accomplished what I have set out to do," Journey said. "I look forward to being a much needed stable and consistent part of these children’s lives."
"This is without question the most inspirational role I have ever taken on in my life.”