Agency Guards Interest of Foster Kids' Interests Advocacy Group in Need of Spanish-Speaking Volunteers
Ferrarin, Elena, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Byline: Elena Ferrarin Daily Herald Staff Writer
Some children in foster care have terrible tales of abuse and neglect.
Already in a painful situation, Latino foster children often have to contend with language barriers, either because they or their parents don't speak English.
In Illinois there is a shortage of Spanish-speaking foster families and social workers, but also of Spanish-speaking court- appointed special advocates, commonly known as CASAs.
The National Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Association, based in Seattle, Wash., is a not-for-profit, volunteer-based organization with 958 programs across the country. Of these, 31 are located in Illinois, including in McHenry, Lake, Cook, DuPage and Kane counties. All need more bilingual volunteers.
CASAs monitor how the children are doing while in foster care. They work independently from the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and are assigned to each child's case by a judge.
"The CASA is a friend of the court. They meet with the child and supervise their best interest," said Kelly Pokharel, director of the CASA of McHenry County, based in Woodstock. "They always have to be objective. The priority is the children."
The program has been long in existence in Cook County and throughout the United States, but just recently started in McHenry County. Out of its 23 volunteers, none speaks Spanish.
"We have had to turn down cases because we have no one who is bilingual," Pokharel said.
Out of about 17,000 youths currently in foster care in Illinois, 424 are Spanish-speaking Latinos, and another 657 are Latinos who speak English, according to DCFS data.
CASA volunteers must complete a 50-hour training course during a two-month period. They learn about the juvenile court system and the different social service agencies in the area, and about child development, substance abuse, mental health problems and other issues pertinent to foster children.
"It's intense training and a lot of information. You think: 'Are you going to remember? …