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CASA of SLO County continues its work with vulnerable youth despite pandemic 

Despite the disruptions of COVID-19, the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of San Luis Obispo County continues its work, recently training and swearing in 13 new volunteers to serve as advocates for abused and neglected local youth.

"Our volunteers are pretty amazing," said Katie Robinson, program director at CASA of SLO County. "We've been successful during COVID-19 to do 100 percent virtual training for new volunteers."

More than 40 local foster youth have been assigned to CASA volunteers since mid-March, as the child welfare system has carried on but has pivoted online since the pandemic. When COVID-19 hit, the Juvenile Dependency Court went to Zoom for its hearings, which kept the system from grinding to a halt.

click to enlarge THERE FOR YOUTH CASA of SLO County continues to serve local foster youth during the pandemic, recently swearing in 13 new volunteers and taking in 41 new clients. - PHOTO COURTESY OF CASA OF SLO COUNTY
  • Photo Courtesy Of Casa Of SLO County
  • THERE FOR YOUTH CASA of SLO County continues to serve local foster youth during the pandemic, recently swearing in 13 new volunteers and taking in 41 new clients.

"We were really fortunate for the court here to be able to remain open so families could still get served," Robinson said.

CASA continues to play its usual critical role of advocating for the youth in that system, but the work looks a little different right now.

"The workload didn't go away. We really just had to shift to what the new normal was going to look like," Robinson said. "Usually [the volunteers'] requirement is to see children face to face on a weekly basis. That has definitely shifted. We're looking at ways to engage over Zoom, phone calls, FaceTime. We've also had social-distanced meals on the porch and in the front yard, games on the phone, scavenger hunts ... . These volunteers have stepped up above and beyond to really reach them where they're at."

According to CASA's website, a CASA volunteer is often the most consistent person in a foster youth's life. He or she gets to know the child on a deep and personal level, becoming a vital voice for them in the system.

"They're gathering information on the well-being of that child," Robinson explained. "When there is a court hearing, they write a report to the judge, and in that report it makes recommendations for what would be in the best interest of the child."

CASA and its volunteers remain hard at work, but with fewer resources. Due to COVID-19, the nonprofit had to cancel one of its main fundraisers in the spring. It plans to hold its upcoming September fundraiser virtually.

"Those funds are about a quarter of our budget," Robinson said. "We're anticipating that we're not going to bring in the same amount. That is a concern."

Donations and corporate sponsorships are welcome right now, as are new volunteers.

"We're making a dent in the number of kids we have on our waitlist," Robinson said, "but we're always looking for volunteers."

The shutdowns in response to the coronavirus mark a critical time to help out in child welfare. With families stuck at home due to COVID-19, advocates are concerned that fewer eyes and ears are on children who might be in abusive situations. Social service agencies are seeing a decrease in suspected child abuse reports, but the ones that are coming in are more acute and urgent, Robinson said.

"We all have concerns around the welfare of children right now," she said. "Families we come in contact with, they're in vulnerable places already. When the health care pandemic comes on, I don't think any of us feel lighter."

Fast facts

Local Registered Nurse Ron Tindall recently made a $10,000 donation to the SLO Noor Foundation, which will go toward the purchase of a new and "much needed" electronic medical records system for the nonprofit medical, dental, and vision clinic, according to a July 16 press release. "As a member of the local health care community for over 30 years, I understand the needs and gaps in care even here in SLO County," Tindall said in the press release. "The SLO Noor Foundation helps to fill those gaps and treat those who are most vulnerable. I'm proud to donate and help them advance their mission."

• Wilshire Health & Community Services announced the launch of the Wisdom From the Porch podcast on healthy aging, hosted by 78-year-old Bill Degnan. Listen in at wisdomfromtheporch.org. Δ

Assistant Editor Peter Johnson wrote this week's Strokes and Plugs. Send tidbits to strokes@newtimesslo.com.

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