By LILY TINOCO | Reporter
Palisadian Harriet Zaretsky is the board chair for Court Appointed Special Advocates of Los Angeles, an organization that trains volunteers to become advocates for foster children.
CASA of Los Angeles is the local branch of a nationwide organization that works with more than 30,000 children across the county. Due to COVID-19, the organization has had to readjust its services, and Zaretsky said there has been an increase in the demand to help.
“The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting closure of schools, courts and service agencies this year has heightened the already critical need for CASA advocacy in the lives of children and youth in foster care,” she said. “Fortunately, the CASA-LA team adjusted quickly to the challenges brought by COVID-19, pivoting almost immediately to new strategies to virtually recruit and train community volunteers, and to advocate for youth while they are out of sight of their teachers, therapists and even the court.”
Zaretsky said that CASA volunteers have helped locate laptops for youth, find safe living placements and keep their spirits up over Zoom and FaceTime, “helping them cope with fear and insecurity during the safer-at-home order and throughout these challenging times,” she added.
CASA-LA staff, volunteers and youth are all continuing to work remotely.
Zaretsky has worked with CASA-LA since 1995 and in her time has served as a volunteer, on the board of directors and is now in her second year as chairwoman. She was appointed on July 1, 2019.
Zaretsky shared that plenty of Palisadians have previously served on the board, are currently serving on the board or are volunteers—but she’s calling for greater action and increasing the program’s visibility.
“These kids are the pipeline for future homeless, future incarcerated,” Zaretsky explained to the Palisadian-Post. “We’re looking for volunteers to work with these kids one-on-one, advocate for them for a period of time in their lives and be the one person who’s consistent in their lives.”
CASA advocates for newborns and individuals up to 21 years old. The organization doesn’t focus on serving a specific age group or range, it simply focuses on serving the children in the system.
CASAs show up for meetings, doctor appointments and school, interacting with said child at least once per month. CASAs also work with the professionals in the case: social workers and therapists if there are any.
She added that in many ways, CASAs are like detectives: the “eyes and ears to the court.” Volunteers get to know a child and his or her situation, working toward configuring the issues that might be holding them back.
“These are innocent kids, they’ve been abused, abandoned or neglected through no fault of their own, just their circumstances,” Zaretsky said. “You do whatever’s required to make sure that this child is receiving the services they need and is on the trajectory to be successful.”
CASA candidates have to be over the age of 21, with a clean record. CASAs are trained over the course of a few weeks. After being trained and accepted into the program, they are assigned a case.
“I have to say, as a volunteer experience, there’s nothing better that anybody can do,” Zaretsky said. “You might not recognize them until the system fails and then you see them as the homeless, the mentally ill or the incarcerated where these populations are largely previous foster children.”
For more information, visit casala.org.
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