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CASA First Supports Foster Children and More

A Group of CASA First employees and volunteers.
A Group of CASA First employees and volunteers.

We are going to be talking about an organization in our community, CASA First, which stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates within the first judicial jurisdiction of New Mexico and is a non-profit organization that focuses on community outreach in a variety of ways.

The first one to talk about is that of connecting a CASA, a trained volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocate, to a child that is going through the foster care system.

Last year the organization was able to help support over 100 kids within the district and did so with support from 60 Volunteers from the community.

Miranda Saint James, who volunteers as a CASA, Described the duties of being an advocate as being there as a reliable person in the child's life to support them on a number of days.

“When you do the training, which are fairly intense, They require that you commit to one year and that is because it takes about a year for a court case to settle down. It is actually very flexible with your availability. The only things that are required are court dates; you need to be there and you need to write a court report. Other than that it's pretty much on your own time, you can schedule home visits, school visits, but it's on your own time, so it works really well with peoples schedules.

There are other organizations that support children; however, Saint James believes Casa First has an advantage.

“The wonderful thing about CASA is when you volunteer you are only assigned one family. That may consist of one child or it may consist of multiple children, but it allows the volunteer to know the children and family dynamics really well and be able to advocate for their needs to the best of their ability.”

Grace Korthius, the program support specialist at casas first, says that the organization has an incredible training program for its CASA volunteers.

“The training from CASA First is really incredible. I love that it's in person, that gives people the chance to get to know each other and work together as a team. They will do example cases and volunteers will try to figure out how to respond to a particular situation with a child or family, hypothetically of course. That's really helpful. Having that in-person dialogue with one another and being able to ask as many questions as they want to our volunteer supervisors. I love that the people in our office who lead these trainings don't shy away from tough topics, the work we do is hard and they recognize that and they want the volunteers to be aware of that.”

Saint James said a certain concept in training was particularly important.

“One of the things that sticks out the most for me is the difference between working with infants, young children and adolescents. Every case and every scenario is so incredibly different. In some situations you have a family that only has one child and sometimes there are many children in different homes. Learning to work with each age group was important for me.”

Annie Rasquin, Executive Director of CASA First shares her background and goals in her position.

“I took on the leadership position with CASA First because I have worked in the field doing clinical work with children who experienced trauma and neglect for 15 years in advanced behavioral health agencies. I saw through CASA they could have some of the most profound impact on the work. My job as the Executive Director is the overall programming, fund raising, making sure the community knows about our work, working closely with our board developing a vision for our organization. We have expanded our services; we don't just work with kids in foster care, we also work with other kids who need an advocate in the corner.”

Rasquin said they have a vision for their youth ambassadors.

“There's another vision we have that we would love to do more. We'd love to have a drop in center for kids. We’ve really grown our youth ambassadors, we have young volunteers helping us, we have kids helping us from the age of 8 to in their early 20s who are really proud that they get to support children by volunteering with us. At the same time it builds their self esteem and their confidence and their social capital and make relationships with each other.”

The first youth ambassador for CASA First is Liana Star; she is now 18 and has been involved for 7 years. Star explains her volunteer position and what being youth ambassador is all about.

“I am part of the Youth Ambassador Team which is made up of youth here in Santa Fe that come together to do community outreach for CASA First. I am also co-chair of the Youth Ambassadors Program. That involves more media and community outreach projects. Being a Youth Ambassador basically consists of taking information that CASA provides us with and getting in contact with other children and youth in our community; we’re the branch between the children and the adults that are attempting to help foster youth in our community.”

Star said that her goal as a Youth Ambassador is to help build connections.

“Reaching out to the other youth within my local community here in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I feel as though we know that foster children exist but there isn't a sense of community between those who are part of the foster youth community and those that are outside of it.”

Katie Mitchell, 19, is a new youth ambassador and said that she had wanted to get involved with the community and that finding this volunteer program with CASA First was an epiphanal moment.

“I've always wanted to do something to help people, but I didn't know what. I didn't know how or even how to start. Hearing about CASA and the Youth Ambassadors Program was really kind of a lightbulb moment for me. This could be it or me, this could be something that I really want to get into to help people out.”

Elizabeth Eppley, the Executive Assistant for CASA First Explains the Abrigo program, another way CASA offers support to the community.

“We developed Abrigo in response to CASA having some limitations around it. First, the youth needed to be in foster care actively and they also needed to be 18 years or younger. Abrigo was a way for us to encompass more of these kids. The name Abrigo means coat or shelter, it's a way for us to provide an extra layer of protection for youth. Even if they're not in foster care, we wanted to make sure that we could work with youth after the case closed or even if they weren't in foster care but were having a difficult time. We feel like our CASA Model works really well with kids in foster care and thought why not try to bring this model to other youth that could benefit from it too.”

For more information on volunteering, services, donating or getting involved in any way; please visit casafirst.org and contact the team.

Shantar Baxter Clinton is the hourly News Reporter for KSFR. He’s earned an Associates of the Arts from Bard College at Simons Rock and a Bachelors in journalism with a minor in anthropology from the University of Maine.