There’s a common theme amongst children dependent on the San Joaquin County justice system—they feel unwanted.
In foster care or living at home in conditions no child should endure, these children have no voice and they aren’t getting the care they need to thrive. In many cases, they aren’t getting any care at all.
For 1,600 children in the SJ County court system, the goal is usually adoption, but what do these children do in the interim? And what if they are adopted into a home that isn’t good for them?
Enter CASA of San Joaquin County. A CASA is a Court Appointed Special Advocate assigned to help children navigate a life of court hearings and home jumping. It’s a special group of about 100 volunteers who aid youth in need—runaways, troublemakers, those in bad situations.
“I think the goal of any CASA is to diminish the suffering to the best of our ability,” says Diane Warth, a CASA volunteer for two-and-a-half years.
For the duration of her appointment, Diane has been assigned one case: a ten-year-old girl who was removed from her parents’ home, along with her baby sister, when her parents failed her. She self-harms and there have been allegations of sexual abuse. Since being pulled from her home, the girl has moved multiple times and been promised adoption by a family member who is now having second thoughts.
“She is just really struggling,” Diane sighs.
Every other week Diane takes her girl out to eat. She picks the restaurant and Diane never says no. It may be the only decision that girl will make about her life until the next time they meet.
During these dinners, they talk. The girl trusts Diane and tells her things she wouldn’t tell anyone else. These private conversations help. The girl has a confidant and that confidant takes action with social workers and the courts.
Arnetta Scott, a CASA for 11 years, says trust is important. She recalls a case, a teenager prone to running away, a young mother with nowhere she felt safe. “I told her I was here for her and a lot of these kids don’t believe that.”
When the girl escaped her group home, it was Arnetta she called for help. “She trusted me to be there for her.” To Arnetta, it meant everything.
On paper, CASAs are responsible for getting kids through high school, finding them safe homes, and advocating for their needs. Kids receive individualized care because CASAs are assigned just one child or sibling set at a time. But that’s not all they do. Arnetta once met a 15-year-old who had never been to the zoo, so she took her. “I’m not trying to be their superhero. I just want them to be exposed to the things kids are supposed to be exposed to.”
More CASA volunteers are needed.
To become a volunteer:
Child Abuse Prevention Council
540 N. California St., Stockton