By Sesario Escoto
Retired Dean of Students, Cabrillo College
The parents of 13-year old “Esmerelda” were desperately trying to keep her safe, as the girl was acting out and exhibiting high-risk behaviors. However, the parents had their own struggle with alcohol, and one night things escalated into physical violence, and the police were called. Esmerelda was removed from her home and placed in foster care in a group home.
The trauma of being removed from her family affected Esmerelda in all realms of her life. In school, she went from an “A” student to one who is facing suspension. Her parents worked with child welfare and came to dependency court, asking for help in getting their daughter back home. The judge thought that an adult mentor who was separate from the volatile family might help, so she referred Esmerelda to CASA to be matched with a volunteer Advocate. Esmerelda is bilingual; however, her parents speak only Spanish. Because Esmerelda and her family are working to get her home, a bilingual volunteer Advocate who can communicate with both her and her family is needed. Today, CASA has no bilingual volunteers available, so Esmerelda is now on a list until one becomes available. The whole family is wanting and waiting for a bilingual/bicultural volunteer to help them on their journey through this traumatic time.
In my 40-year career in education – all of which includes serving high risk students from Kindergarten through college – I have worked with a similar demographic as the children CASA serves. I have seen how important my fluency in English and Spanish is to our community. It has allowed me to help parents and their children navigate the public school system and various government agencies, and is a critical piece in connecting families to the resources they need in the community.
There are several more children like Esmerelda in Santa Cruz County who need help. Bilingual CASA volunteers can offer Latino families the highest possible level of support, and the greatest chance for success. These volunteers bring greater overall understanding, remove the language barrier, help build rapport, and increase family cooperation and progress.
During National Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 to October 15), we recognize the need for more CASA volunteers who are trained to speak up for the best interest of children in the foster care system. We believe it is important for CASA volunteers to speak the language and understand and appreciate the culture of the children they serve in foster care, so they can make informed recommendations to judges hearing the children’s cases.
CASA of Santa Cruz County needs your help. If you can commit to a few hours a week, and are interested in becoming a volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocate, you CAN make a difference in the life of a child like Esmerelda. Please go to www.casaofsantacruz.org/volunteer to get more information.