CASA of Pinal County salutes heroes who aren't in history books

CASA of Pinal County salutes heroes who aren't in history books
CASA of Pinal County salutes heroes who aren't in history books

During February, Black History Month, CASA of Pinal County recognizes the positive difference that Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) volunteers of color have made to children in the foster care system.

"Sisters Bridget Gibson and Deb Holman of Coolidge and Rick Moody (Casa Grande) are CASA advocates who won't be mentioned in the history books, but they are making a tremendous difference in the lives of abused or neglected children in the foster care system," said Pam Burke, Coordinator of CASA of Pinal County.

"These children have already faced tough situations, and entering the foster care system can be traumatic. But when a child is placed in a culturally different setting, it is even more challenging," continued Burke. "They aren't just removed from their homes but removed from their schools, community, place of worship, etc."

In Arizona, African American children are over represented in the state's foster care system. Statewide, 5 percent of the child population is African American, but 15.4 percent of the children removed from their homes are African American. There is no evidence that African American children are abused or neglected at higher rates compared to children of other races and ethnicities.

It is important that the CASA volunteer pool reflect the children who are underserved. Unfortunately, only 4% of the more than 1,000 volunteers in Arizona are African American, said Burke.

"We need more volunteers who are sensitive to cultural differences, who can help foster parents work through the issues that child is facing and who can be positive role models for children in care," said Donna McBride, Program Administrator for CASA of Pinal County. "We all like to think we're color blind, but the reality is unless you've walked in the shoes of someone who has faced discrimination or not fitting in, you really don't understand the challenges a child of color experiences who has been uprooted and placed in a strange setting."

CASA volunteers are specifically trained to advocate for children in foster care. Volunteer advocates get to know the child and speak to everyone involved in the child's life, including their family members, teachers, doctors, lawyers, social workers and others. The information they gather and their recommendations help the court overseeing the cases make informed decisions. CASA volunteers commit to a child until the case is closed and the child is in a safe, permanent home.

For more information about CASA of Pinal County, visit www.CASAofPinalCounty.org.

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