A Court Appointed Special Advocate Can Change a Child’s Life

A conversation with two committed professionals who help CASA Sacramento match trained volunteers with children in the foster care system.

PUBLISHED MAR 27, 2024 4:38 P.M.
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Danielle Dace and Matthew Romsa of CASA Sacramento

Danielle Dace and Matthew Romsa of CASA Sacramento

The nonprofit organization Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA Sacramento, provides support, mentorship, and advocacy for young people who through no fault of their own have been removed from their parent’s care due to abuse or neglect.

 CASA is the only organization in the region that matches young people with a trained adult who gives them one-on-one mentorship and support. A big piece of that work involves advocating for the youths in what are often complex court proceedings that they would otherwise have to negotiate on their own.

Danielle Dace, CASA’s Training & Recruitment Director, and Matthew Romsa, Donor Relations Director, both had important personal experiences with the organization before coming to their current jobs.

Dace volunteered as a Court Appointed Special Advocate herself, working with four girls over the course of seven years. Over that time, and since coming to work at CASA eight years ago, Dace says, she has seen some happy endings and some not-so happy endings. In every case, CASA volunteers do what they can to provide each youth with stability and direction.

The first young woman Dace worked with, whom we will call Felicia for the sake of confidentiality, was a sophomore in high school when Dace was appointed to help her. Not long after they met, Dace was informed that the family providing a home for Felicia could no longer offer her a place to stay. When that occurs in the life of a foster child—and sadly this happens often—there is no immediately available resource family to take them in, so they spend time in emergency shelter care. 

Maintaining Educational Continuity

During the time Felicia was in shelter care, Dace helped her continue receiving education at her high school. Because school is often a crucial familiar environment, foster children in California, as they move from home to home, have a right to continue at the same high school. In Dace‘s experience, helping her CASA youth with her education was an important part of her service. She recalls finding out that Felicia was failing and some of her subjects, and so Dace called a meeting. She asked the teachers involved to attend, and also the vice principal and the school counselor.

 “I spoke to each teacher individually and I asked: ‘What kind of help does Felicia need? What are you doing to help her? What can I do to help her? And what does she need to do?’ Everyone took some responsibility for a part of the problem.”

After the meeting, Dace recalls, Felicia told her that no one had ever done anything like that for her before, and that she appreciated it. Danielle replied: “‘I have an expectation that you are going to do what we agreed upon.’ And she did. She turned around after that meeting. And two years later she graduated high school with honors, with her peers.”

Giving Youths a Chance to Thrive

Matthew Romsa came to know CASA and its work because he was a foster parent. When he and his wife took in their second foster child, whom they have since adopted, she was 13 months old, and had been with three sets of guardians. Fortunately, the little girl had a CASA volunteer as she wound her way through the courts. Romsa says the CASA volunteer helped him and his wife in all of their dealings with the child welfare system—CASA volunteers receive 35 hours of training in this and other sets of skills.

“My wife and I are college educated, and we both found the systems difficult to navigate,” Romsa recalls. “Our CASA helped us in many cases understand the terminology and take care of the paperwork. And she was just a wonderful human being.”

Romsa says he wishes their first foster child had been given the benefit of a CASA volunteer throughout her life. In YEAR?, the Romsas took in a 17-year old who had been in the child welfare system for most of her life. She had experienced quite a bit of trauma, and during the three and a half months that she lived with the family, Romsa says, they did their best as foster parents, but were unable to help her get her life on track. 

The young woman barely graduated from high school, he says, and graduated only because her teachers knew what she had gone through and gave her a pass. When she left their home, he says, she had no plan for her future, and the family has been unable to track her down since. “I truly believe that if she would’ve had a CASA volunteer in her life to provide her with some stability, mentorship, and advocacy, things would’ve turned out differently,” he says.

“She had nobody there to advocate for her in the courts. What eight-year-old, 10-year-old, 12-year-old, 14 year-old, can advocate for themselves in court of law? It was difficult enough for us to navigate the court system with our second foster-care kiddo.”

 How to Volunteer

Over just the last two years, CASA Sacramento has provided almost 500 children in the local foster-care system with a committed, highly-trained volunteer Advocate. As of this writing, there are 25 young people who’ve been assigned by a judge to CASA Sacramento’s waiting list to be matched with an Advocate. On average, a child can wait for up to 100 days for a CASA volunteer.

After receiving training with a cohort of fellow volunteers, either via Zoom meetings or in person, each prospective Advocate is appointed by a judge to an individual child’s case, and makes an 18-month commitment to, according to SacramentoCASA.org, “advocate for the child’s best interests in court and in all aspects of their life. making a positive difference and giving them an opportunity to thrive.”

“Through an intentional and culturally responsive lens, we train committed, consistent and caring adults who can change the trajectory of a child’s life through strengths-based advocacy and life-affirming connections.”

To learn more about volunteering, follow this link or scan the QR code below. Click here to donate.


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