By Volunteer Advocate Claudia Hernandez
CASA of Travis County holds many values, one of them being familia. Familia is the Spanish translation for family, and here at CASA, we value the kids we serve and their families. The children I have had the opportunity to serve have shown me what family means to them. Familia is not always biological. Sometimes, it is those who are supportive, consistent, and loving.
At CASA we have three volunteer roles, Court Appointed Special Advocate, Early Family Engagement, and Family Finding. While they are all very important, the first initial contact is usually done with Early Family Engagement also referred to as “EFE.” In Early Family Engagement, our goal is to keep the kids we serve connected to their families and their culture. As EFE volunteers we visit the child/children and allow them to tell us about who they are and the family they feel comfortable with. Something to consider in this process is that kids will often feel more comfortable talking to someone that speaks their preferred language and looks like them.
"For National Hispanic Heritage Month, we want to highlight the efforts CASA makes to ensure the kids we serve are connected to their culture, but also emphasize the lack of representation for children who identify as Hispanic/Latinx."
For National Hispanic Heritage Month, we want to highlight the efforts CASA makes to ensure the kids we serve are connected to their culture, but also emphasize the lack of representation for children who identify as Hispanic/Latinx. 52% of the kids we serve at CASA identify as Hispanic/Latinx, but only 16% of our volunteers identify as Hispanic/Latinx. Entering the child welfare system can be an intimidating and frightening experience for a child. Therefore, the disproportionality could be harmful to kids who are not being represented.
A child thrives in a setting where they feel safe and comfortable. As an EFE volunteer, our goal is to find that setting to make the child welfare system less frightening. In my experience, while volunteering with EFE I have met some amazing children who have shown me their fun personalities. I remember one of my first visits to a foster home with individuals who only spoke English. The children I was there to see were Hispanic and only two out of the five kids spoke English.
"A child thrives in a setting where they feel safe and comfortable."
I came into the home and noticed the language barrier being an issue and the two kids who could speak English were translating for their younger siblings. I sat down with all the children at the dining room table and introduced myself. I said, “Hola me llamo Claudia, soy voluntaria de CASA, es una agencia que ayuda a niños y tratamos de reunirlos con familia cuando sea posible. Estoy aqui para conocerte y escucharte.” This translates to “Hi my name is Claudia, I am a CASA volunteer, an agency that helps kids and we try to reunite families when possible. I am here to get to know you and listen to you.”
A simple introduction in their native language allowed the children to truly speak to me about what they’d been feeling and what they’d experienced since being removed from their mother. The younger children gained so much trust for me in that short time that they even began to sing a song that I used to listen to with my own parents. The children told me about the family they have outside of Austin, the family they have in Austin, and the family they have lived with before. I could tell familia was something they all valued and had a strong connection with by the way they described each family member.
"Being able to communicate with family members in their native language allows them to trust us as advocates."
Being able to discuss with the children who they most feel safe and comfortable with allows us as EFE volunteers to get in touch with those family members. Family members may become skeptical when receiving calls from a random number saying they are there to advocate for a child they know. Being able to communicate with those family members in their native language allows them to trust us as advocates, and they are able to share any worries that may arise from the situation.
Spoiler alert, the kids in that case returned home with their familia. That was one of my first cases as an EFE volunteer, but I think about those kids now and then. Through a difficult experience, they still remained hopeful. This month is dedicated to our kids who regardless of their experience hold their culture close to their hearts. They may not always end up in foster homes that share their culture or even their native language. Therefore, our Hispanic/Latinx children must be represented just as much as other children.
"Ideally, more resources should be available to Hispanic/Latinx parents [to] thrive without involvement in the child welfare system."
Ideally, more resources should be available to Hispanic/Latinx parents to allow not only kids but also parents to thrive without involvement in the child welfare system. There is a long way to go before that will be possible, but for now, what we can do is give our time and support to agencies that help reunite families and emphasize cultural humility. That is one reason why I choose to volunteer with CASA: I am part of the 16% wanting to make a difference. Representation allows children to know there are people out in the world that look like them, that speak like them, and that can help them be their authentic selves without feeling shame.
"I don’t know about you, but it is easier for me to be my authentic self when I am with people that look like me and have a similar background as me."
At CASA, we want what’s in the best interest of the children we serve, but we also want them to feel comfortable being their authentic selves. I don’t know about you, but it is easier for me to be my authentic self when I am with people that look like me and have a similar background as me.
I hope you challenge yourself to think about what National Hispanic Heritage Month means to you or those you know that celebrate. We at CASA are proud of the work we do and appreciate the support we receive. We will continue to build representation for our Hispanic/Latinx community.
If you want to be part of the 16% who help the Hispanic/Latinx children we serve feel represented and connected to their culture, look into CASA of Travis County and the many roles available at www.casatravis.org/volunteer.
2020 Culture & Diversity Advocacy Volunteers