SOMERS POINT - CASA volunteer and Pleasantville resident Yasna Babich has a caring heart.
Babich is a representative of Court Appointed Special Advocates for children of Atlantic and Cape May Counties, or CASA. She is one of a group of trained volunteers who speak in family court on behalf of abused and neglected children in the foster care system. They are dedicated to ensuring these children are placed in safe, permanent homes as quickly as possible.
Babich depends on her heritage to help Hispanic and Latino children living in foster care cope with being apart from their family and, often times, their traditions.
Moved among foster homes and adjusting to new environments, children in foster care need a consistent, caring adult. For children of Hispanic heritage, it is particularly important that their advocate understand and respect their culture, according to CASA.
When Babich took her first CASA case three years ago, her assigned child was frightened and unresponsive to those trying to help her. Then the young girl met Babich, who spoke to her in the girl’s native language, Spanish, and she immediately became comfortable and opened up to Babich.
“Everything totally changed when she could speak Spanish,” Babich said. “We had a communication bond, and she came to me when she needed help.”
Growing up in Miami, it was easy to find someone who spoke Spanish, Babich said. However, fluent Spanish speakers are not as common in Atlantic and Cape May counties.
Living in the foster care system for children is already complicated, but with English as a second language, the experience can be overwhelming for them, CASA officials said.
In Atlantic and Cape May counties, CASA has only three volunteers of Hispanic heritage, which means the 42 Hispanic and Latino children that CASA served last fiscal year often have a CASA volunteer with a different ethnic background.
Cultural competency is more than overcoming a language barrier; sensitivity to traditions and values builds trust between the CASA volunteer and the child.
“Every single Hispanic culture is different, but the method of upbringing with a foundation of family is there (in all cultures),” Babich said.
Despite their differences, with most Hispanic and Latino cultures, there is a commonality of having deep passion for family.
“We love to fight, but at the dinner table, we all love each other,” Babich said, laughing.
Although the CASA children have come from an abusive home life, their propensity to reflect their culture is still there, she explained. CASA volunteers strive to not be too emotionally involved in the case, Babich said, but for Hispanic culture, "You need to bring emotion out to form a trust with the child.”
According to Casey Family Programs, Hispanic children are more likely to be placed in foster care and for longer periods of time than their white, non-Latino counterparts. Because of this, it is essential for the CASA volunteer and child relationship to be based on trust, rapport, and an ability to understand and appreciate the child’s culture and traditions.
A more diverse volunteer base would better match the cultural makeup of the children CASA serves, but a shortage of Hispanic and Latino volunteers makes it difficult to meet the need.
“Understanding how children feel about their heritage and being able to communicate and relate to their traditions can make the difference between the child feeling alone or appreciated and self-assured,” CASA volunteer coordinator Sara Passaro said.
The next CASA volunteer training session is scheduled for 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Oct. 21-25.
An evening training begins Nov. 12.
Registration, including an application and interview, are necessary before being accepted to training.
Kids Fit Final Mile
CASA is holding a one-mile kids fun run in conjunction with the Atlantic City Marathon Saturday, Oct. 12.
The Kids Fit Final Mile will take place 11 a.m., starting and finishing at Bally’s
Dennis Courtyard on Michigan Avenue and the Atlantic City boardwalk.
Participants will create their own race number, and there will be face painting, post-race activities, awards and T-shirts.
The registration fee is $15 through Oct. 1 and $20 after. To register see the official AC Marathon/Kids Fun Run information page or call 609-601-7800.
CASA of Atlantic and Cape May Counties
Trained CASA Volunteers speak in family court on behalf of abused and neglected children in the foster care system and are dedicated to ensuring these children are placed in safe permanent homes as quickly as possible.
More than 1,000 children are placed in foster care annual in Atlantic and Cape May counties.
During the last fiscal year, CASA served 350 abused and neglected children with more than 200 CASA volunteers and helped place 106 children in permanent homes.
For more information about CASA see www.AtlanticCapeCASA.org. CASA is a United Way Partner Agency.
Nationally, CASA is a network of 946 community-based programs that recruit, train and support citizen volunteers to advocate for the best interests of abused and neglected children in courtrooms and communities.
Volunteers are empowered by the courts to provide children with one-on-one advocacy. CASA volunteers see their assigned children regularly and interview all the adults who impact their lives. Volunteer advocates offer judges the critical information they need to ensure each child’s rights and needs are being attended to while in foster care, staying with the child until he or she is placed in a loving permanent home. For many abused children, the CASA volunteer is the only constant adult presence in their lives, according to the organization.
For more information see www.casaforchildren.org
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