Child Advocates of Silicon Valley

What a Difference You've Made

Wednesday, Mar 29, 2017

Executive Director Karen Scussel of Child Advocates of Silicon Valley

Remarks by Executive Director Karen Scussel of Child Advocates of Silicon Valley to 300+ attendees of the March 25th Motown event.

According to the American Medical Association, “A more vulnerable group does not exist than children removed from the custody of their parents and placed in foster care.”

Today, here in Santa Clara County, there are approximately 1,600 children in the juvenile dependency system; 1600 children who have been removed from the care of their parents due to having experienced abuse or neglect; 1600 children who have the additional trauma of being removed from all that is familiar, despite how difficult life has been up to that point.

Did you know that foster youth are almost twice as likely to suffer from PTSD as U.S. war veterans? According to a study by Harvard Medical School, the University of Michigan and Casey Family Programs - the frequent placement changes and lack of permanent support faced by foster children contribute to feelings of anxiety and social instability. These factors affect education and occupational success.

With the current climate of uncertainty surrounding social safety net programs, it is vitally important that foster children – our community’s most vulnerable population – have a caring stable adult in their lives.

Child Advocates provides that one person, that caring adult who will remain their friend, advocate and mentor throughout their time in the dependency system: a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA).

Child Advocates of Silicon Valley recruits, trains and supports community volunteers to work one-on-one with foster children, providing critical emotional and educational support, ensuring that each child’s needs are met and their voice heard while navigating the dependency court system.

We know CASAs create better outcomes for children in foster care. What’s why we’re working so hard to achieve our goal to provide every foster child in Santa Clara County with a CASA.

Muhammed Chaudhry and Jon R. Gundry, Op-Ed, San Jose Mercury News, March 20, 2017Pre-school experience is critical for ensuring that young children are ready and prepared to participate in kindergarten. In a recent San Jose Mercury News Editorial by Muhammed Chaudhry of Silicon Valley Education Fund noted that 60% of pre-school age children in Santa Clara County are enrolled in pre-school.

Yet, for foster children, pre-school enrollment ranges just 23 – 35%.

However, foster children with a CASA are enrolled in pre-school at rates even greater than the average pre-school child in Santa Clara County!

Muhammed Chaudry & Jon R. Gundry, Op-Ed to San Jose
Mercury News, March 20, 2017

We support our children through each stage, at every age. The high school completion rates nationwide is 84%, but for foster youth it is fewer than 50%. Our foster youth high school completion rates range up to 93% AND our youth are more likely to continue their postsecondary education.

For those of you who are familiar with our work, you know this is not for the faint of heart. Being a CASA requires a level of commitment and devotion beyond the usual volunteer work.

The reward can seem elusive at times, but when it happens, and it will, it is incredible. Like my little guy who read at first grade level when I first met him at age 12. Three years later he announced: “All the kids ask me the good books to read, because I’m a reader.” He completed high school six months early.

I have spoken with many of our children and youth; a consistent theme is that their CASA becomes that one person they can depend on, the one person who they know is there for them because they want to spend time with them.

CASAs give their time and open their hearts to be a special friend for a child, to get to really know the child, to speak up for them, to push for decisions that will allow the child to feel special and valued. The fact that the CASA is a volunteer is HUGE.

This fiscal year our mighty staff of 20 will support over 650 volunteers, providing voice for about 850 children. Our goal is to grow the number of children served to 1200 by 2021.

A noted judge familiar with Juvenile Dependency states: “CASA is the most effective program connecting the community and the courts…CASA is perceived by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges as a best practice. This conclusion is based on the experiences of hundreds of judges.” Thank you Judge Leonard Edwards!

Many of you here this evening are or have been CASA volunteers, adults who are willing to give of themselves – Thank you.

All of you here tonight are doing something very important for our community. With your generous support we are well positioned to achieve our long term goal of serving every foster child in the Santa Clara County dependency system. With your continued backing we will continue to transform lives, one child at a time. This year, more than ever, your support is vital.

Tonight, we honor one of our community leaders and a significant donor, the Sharks Foundation. The Shark’s Foundation is dedicated to enhancing the lives of underserved youth and families in our community. Child Advocates has been one of half a dozen nonprofits fortunate enough to receive funding from their amazing Goals for Kids program.

For each San Jose Sharks goal scored during a home game, over $1,000 is donated to be distributed to programs that serve our community. The Goals for Kids program started three years ago, a collaboration between the Sharks, Taube Philanthropies and the Koret Foundation.

In the first two years, Goals for Kids contributed more than $97,000 to Child Advocates. We are hoping for another Stanley Cup playoff, and a win, this year. The difference between a good organization and a great organization is the support of its community. Tonight, we honor the Sharks Foundation for investing in our community.

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