Dads, uncles, grandfathers and stepdads all play a special role in their children’s lives. They take their children camping, fishing and to baseball games. Dads help with homework and encourage their sons and daughters to stand tall and go after their dreams. Children learn from their male role models. With a dad’s support, children feel empowered to take risks and tackle the challenges of everyday life.

Sadly, not all children are so lucky to have a father, or a father figure, who can and will do these things for them.

When a child is placed in the state’s care because of evidence of abuse and neglect, a judge can appoint a court-appointed special advocate (CASA) to speak up for a child’s best interests in court and the child welfare system when no one else can. Often the CASA volunteer is the stability a child needs during this frightful time. CASA volunteers visit the child(ren) regularly and develop a relationship with them. They gather information on the case and report back to the judge to ensure each child has the resources and help they need while in the system and is on track to get into a permanent, loving home as soon as possible.

CASA volunteers are everyday community members who donate their time to be the eyes and ears of the judge in the community. No specific background or training is needed to become a CASA volunteer. Anyone 21 years of age or older, who can pass a thorough background check and complete 30 hours of free training is welcome to apply.

There is a special need for more male volunteers in the program. Many children in the system do not have a positive male role model to look up to. Often, their CASA volunteer becomes that person. This is especially important for teen boys close to aging out of the system, who may feel more comfortable opening up to a male volunteer.

Amazingly, the CASA volunteer’s consistent presence in a child’s life while they are going through the foster care system makes all the difference in the world in their eyes. Children with a CASA volunteer spend less time in foster care and are half as likely to re-enter the system.

You can help break the cycle of abuse from one generation to another. You can model what a good father looks like by becoming a CASA volunteer with CASA of Santa Cruz County.

For more information on the CASA program, see casaofsantacruzcounty.org or email mfish@courts.az.gov.

(Fish is coordinator of CASA of Santa Cruz County.)

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