L-R: Marsha Carey – Assistant Program Manager
Jim Steere – Community Advisory Council member
Deborah Roberts – CASA volunteer
Jessica Muñoz – Executive Director
Lorena Sanchez – CASA volunteer

Voices for Children volunteers remain a steady support system for children during challenging times.

At the heart of the mission of Voices for Children are volunteers who give 10 to 15 hours of their time a month as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for a child. Volunteer CASAs advocate for children in the foster care system and are appointed by a judge. Each volunteer spends time getting to know and spending quality time with the child they are matched with.

CASAs report to the court and provide real-time updates to social workers. They also make recommendations that assist with important decisions affecting the child’s life such as their educational needs. Although at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic CASAs were not able to meet with their children in person, they found meaningful ways to stay in contact.

Many volunteers took advantage of the postal system, sending cards, care packages and craft kits they that they worked on with their children over zoom. One volunteer with an older teen, regularly Facetimed to try out new recipes together. Some volunteers wrote notes to their kids about the things they were looking forward to doing together in person when they were able.

“Despite everything that was going on around us, we remained committed to our core mission,” Voices for Children’s Executive Director Jessica Muñoz said. “Even though how we go about accomplishing our mission has looked different, the “why” has stayed the same thanks to our staff, volunteers and supporters.”

Voices for Children has taken many positive lessons from the challenges of the pandemic that it will continue to use moving forward, according to Munoz. When volunteers need to travel unexpectedly or take care of a need of their own, they are now comfortable connecting remotely. It is an excellent way to connect but will never replace in-person visits.

This one-on-one connection between CASA and child can be a turning point in a child’s life, according to Muñoz. She remembers an older teen, sitting in the hallway at court with their CASA and a staff member, who mentioned that she could identify the exact moment she knew she wasn’t worthless. It was when her CASA stepped up as one of the few adults in her life that had kept the promises she had made.

“It’s a success that this young person who has experienced so much trauma knows she has that support,” Muñoz said. “It’s an even bigger success because that adult who is a CASA has the ability through their court appointment to speak up when she recognizes that the young woman has a need.”

Recently, Voice for Children received a grant from the Community Impact Fund through the Inland Empire Community Foundation. Through public and private funders, Voices for Children has been able to sustain and even modestly grow in the last two years. However, the need for funding is always there, Muñoz said.

“Some people think there must be an automatic budget, but we have to raise all of the funds to recruit volunteers, provide services to our current volunteers and provide support and advocacy throughout their service to the end of their case,” she said.

The organization always needs more volunteer CASAs.

There has been an increase in referrals and there are almost 100 children waiting to be matched with a volunteer. The organization needs people of all different backgrounds and with diverse experiences throughout Riverside County.

Voices for Children encourages anyone with a heart for kids and the time to share to consider becoming a CASA. Those who are interested can visit the organization’s website and sign up to attend one of the several information sessions available each month.

More information: https://www.speakupnow.org/  or 951-472-9301

This story originally appeared in the Press Enterprise, July 2022.

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