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A Tarrant County Group That Advocates For Foster Care Children Needs Latino Volunteers

CASA volunteer Norma Davila reads a children's book over FaceTime to the child she advocated for.
CASA of Tarrant County
CASA volunteer Norma Davila reads a children's book over FaceTime to the child she advocated for.

The nonprofit Court Appointed Special Advocates of Tarrant County, which advocates for children placed in foster care, is struggling to recruit Spanish-speaking and Latino volunteers. 

More than 40% percent of the children in the Texas' child welfare system are of Hispanic descent. Tarrant County serves nearly 20%, but only 9% of  CASA's volunteers are Hispanic. 

"Which is one reason why recruiting a more diverse pool of volunteers has long been a priority for CASA. But the need is even more urgent now, since we believe that child abuse removals may increase as the ongoing stress and isolation of the pandemic continue to take their toll on families," said Natalie Stalmach, CASA’s development director.

CASA provides trained volunteers to families in court, and their duty is to advocate on behalf of abused and neglected children in foster care. CASA’s volunteers check in daily on children, accompany them to court hearings, create a space for open dialogue and provide support for traumatized minors living with foster families.

"We’ve had volunteers cook Hispanic meals for a group of siblings that the [foster] mom was not Hispanic, and it’s a comfort," said Stalmach. "It’s a reminder of home, when they lost so many of those connections.” 

Stress caused by COVID-19 and isolation put more children at risk.

Stalmach said the children they serve are going through a "double quarantine" — entering foster care means they've been removed from their family, community and friends and placed in a new environment. Then the pandemic lockdown has given them little contact with the ouside world. 

She adds CASA volunteers are more important than ever because they serve as the "watch dogs" who monitor and make sure everything is OK. 

"All of those things are important to recognize through a culturally competent lense," Stalmach said.

According to CASA, their volunteer ranks tend to be largely white and female, which doesn't mirror the demographic makeup of the children that CASA serves.

"It's really hard to describe how much of a difference they can make in a life of a child ... to communicate in their native language where they feel more comfortable." — Jaime Hernandez, CASA's child advocacy supervisor

“It’s really hard to describe how much of a difference they can make in a life of a child ... to communicate in their native language where they feel more comfortable," said Jaime Hernandez, CASA’s child advocacy supervisor. "Maybe they will be able to open up better."

He said that when the volunteer does not speak the same language or come from the same background it can make it harder to connect with the child. The organization needs bilingual and Latino volunteers to help their most vulnerable children and families. 

“We are trying to do our best to approach the community, talk to them about the need for individuals who have the same kind of background, that can relate to the children and that can understand where they are coming from,” Hernandez said.

Information sessions and trainings are virtual. You can register here.

Got a tip? Alejandra Martinez is a Report For America corps member and writes about the economic impact of COVID-19 on marginalized communities for KERA News. Email Alejandra at amartinez@kera.org. You can follow her on Twitter @_martinez_ale.

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