By Vicki Spriggs
Chief Executive Officer of Texas CASA
Imagine you’ve been taken from the only home you have ever known and placed in a foster home with people that do not speak your language, do not serve the types of foods you are used to and do not understand the subtleties of your culture.
Now, imagine that you have a CASA volunteer who looks like you, talks like you, and shares a similar background and set of experiences. After getting to know them, you start to realize that they can help you navigate this new home. And, even more importantly, they can help your foster family better understand you and your culture – and where, what and who you come from.
We’re in the middle of National Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15 – Oct. 15), a time to celebrate Hispanic and Latino American culture, heritage and contributions. During this month, we at Texas CASA are more dedicated than ever to making sure that we find creative and effective ways to recruit more Hispanic and Latino volunteers, especially those who are bilingual.
Now let me be clear – I know that being an effective CASA volunteer has nothing to do with your race, ethnicity, or the language you speak; and I am beyond grateful for the thousands of volunteers who currently serve in Texas. But it’s also true that having a diverse group of volunteers (and staff and board members, for that matter) makes for a richer working and volunteering experience within any organization. There is no exception for the CASA volunteers who serve children in foster care. One of the main reasons we are intentional about recruiting a more diverse pool of volunteers is that we want the statewide CASA volunteer base to be more of a match to the children that we serve. Of the more than 50,000 children in state care in 2017, just 15,746 of them were white – while more than 21,000 were Hispanic and more than 10,000 were African American. Our current statewide volunteer base, however, is 14 percent Hispanic and 8 percent African American. As far as I’m concerned, in a perfect world, every child in Texas foster care would have a CASA volunteer that could truly understand their experiences and speak the same language as them.
As the statewide organization, one of Texas CASA’s biggest recruitment and awareness initiatives is our statewide marketing campaign. All of our TV, radio and digital ads for this campaign are offered in both English and Spanish, and we have a wonderful partnership with Univision for Spanish-speaking stations. Sometimes people ask us: since a volunteer must speak English, why would you place ads on Spanish-speaking stations? First of all, plenty of English speakers watch Spanish-speaking channels. Second, family is important to all – and it’s uniquely important to the collectivist culture present in Hispanic and Latino communities. If a Spanish-speaking grandmother, for example, were to tell one of her bilingual adult children that she learned about CASA and would love for them to consider joining, she would likely be listened to. And last but not least, this campaign is about more than just recruiting volunteers – it is about making sure that all the citizens of Texas regardless of what language they speak are aware of the epidemic of child abuse and neglect, the needs and challenges of the child welfare system and the important role that CASA plays.
Though I am not Hispanic or Latino, living in Texas has given me an appreciation for many of the traditions, culture and values of these groups. During this month, I would like to suggest that each of us take time to learn more about our neighbors and to be appreciative of the many gifts the Hispanic and Latino communities offer.
In almost every presentation or speaking engagement I make, I refer to the children in the child welfare system as “our” children – Texas’ children. When the children that we personally have raised are away from home and missing their favorite meal or toy or pair of jeans, we as parents will make every effort to see that they get it. Let us not forget that our Texas children in foster care are missing much, much more. What can we do today to make a difference for our children?
If you are not currently involved with CASA, I ask you today to consider how you can play a part in making a difference in the lives of our most vulnerable children. Are you ready to take the first step towards becoming a CASA volunteer? Visit BecomeACASA.org to learn how you can speak up for a child who needs you. You can also support the work of Texas CASA by making a secure online gift that will benefit the local CASA volunteer advocacy programs across the state.