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Marina Bernheimer: National Foster Care Awareness Month

May is National Foster Care Awareness Month, an ideal opportunity to learn more about how local foster youth are supported by Child Advocates of Nevada County.

Child abuse and neglect is a persistent and traumatic reality for children in every part of the nation, regardless of economic, social, or ethnic factors.

Rates of abuse and neglect in Nevada County are roughly equivalent to those reported by the State of California. However, the Lucile Packard Foundation reported in 2015 that Nevada County had higher than state averages for both emotional abuse and generalized neglect.

Children who have been removed from their homes due to severe abuse and/or neglect are among the most vulnerable members of our community. These children have an immense need for support in order to transcend very challenging circumstances to become healthy, happy, and productive members of society. The Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program is central to improving the lives of local foster children.

Child Advocates of Nevada County recruits and trains members of our community to become Court Appointed Special Advocates, aka CASA volunteers. We then match them with a foster child, and the advocate works with other members of the "team"— the child's social worker, teacher, therapist—to determine resources needed and to ensure they are secured. CASA volunteers support youth in many ways, including: offering emotional support; attending related court hearings; generating court reports; assisting a child to navigate court system; monitoring safety of child's foster placement; enrolling child in extracurricular activities; assisting in permanency planning; serving as role model and mentor; advocating for educational resources, and more.

Research shows it only takes one caring adult to change the course of a youth's life, and in the case of a foster youth, that person is often their CASA volunteer. Through one-on-one guidance, support and in-court advocacy, CASA volunteers ensure that their youth have access to health, education and permanency planning services that can improve their quality of life, break the cycle of abuse and neglect, and provide opportunities to develop positive and trusting relationships with adults.

Ultimately, CASA volunteers often reverse the trends typically seen by foster youth. A child who has a CASA volunteer has the best chance of a successful outcome — he or she: spends an average of eight fewer months in foster care; is half as likely to re-enter the foster care system; is more likely to receive needed services; does better in school; is less likely to become a teenage parent; and is more likely to find a secure and safe permanent home.

Foster children who have a CASA volunteer in their life have a greater chance of personal success, health, and happiness in their childhood and beyond. In honor of National Foster Care Awareness Month, please consider volunteering or making a donation at http://www.caofnc.org to help us best serve foster youth in Nevada County. Thank you.

Marina Bernheimer is the executive director of Child Advocates of Nevada County. For more information, visit http://www.caofnc.org.