by Ashika Sethi
At a recent CASA Volunteer Swearing-In Ceremony, The Honorable Darlene Byrne highlighted the obvious gender imbalance among our volunteers.
The volunteers lined up, one by one, to shake Judge Byrne’s hand and receive their Swearing-In Certificate. As the first man graced the stage, Judge Byrne paused and turned to the audience of proud family members and friends.
“What is different about this volunteer?” she asked the crowd.
“Male!” the audience enthusiastically responded. Judge Byrne handed him his certificate as the audience applauded. Rinse, repeat.
Over half of the children we served last year were male, yet only 14 percent of CASA volunteers in Travis County identify as men. This disproportionality is startling, but not uncommon among CASA programs and other volunteer organizations across the country.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Across all age groups, educational levels, and other major demographic characteristics, women continued to volunteer at a higher rate than men.” This altruistic gender gap has certainly impacted CASA’s volunteer population.
As Judge Byrne puts it, youth in the child welfare system seldom have male role models who they can turn to, and a male CASA volunteer by a young man’s side could act as that positive influence in their life. In a culture that tends to rely on gender norms and preconceived ideals that dictate how “masculinity” should be actualized, kids need to witness how responsible and trustworthy men are coping with these societal standards.
“Representation matters,” says Alejandro Victoria, an Advocacy Program Manager at CASA of Travis County. “Seeing someone who is like you in certain positions gives you more hope, and more direction as to what’s expected of you. Having a positive role model can help a youth see themselves in a different light. As Judge Byrne often says, 'We need men to step up to the plate.'"
This representation gap rings true for many young men served by CASA of Travis County.
“We live in a society that is hyper-masculine, and we see youth deeply impacted by this,” says Alejandro. “It helps to have a male role model in a youth’s life that can reframe the societal standards and have tough conversations about how these standards shape their world.”
One of the young men who volunteers with us in Travis County has been that positive influence in a teen’s life. Jon* had been the CASA volunteer on Nathaniel’s* case going on two years, and over that period they established a deep level of trust. When Jon and Nathaniel saw each other, they often discussed Nathaniel’s dreams for the future. Because of Jon’s advocacy, Nathaniel is now attending a local college. At the end of Nathaniel’s case, the CPS caseworker reached out to Jon and his supervisor at CASA to say thank you for being such a fantastic and fierce advocate for Jon, and for being a positive role model in his life.
“It’s important to have male volunteers at CASA because they are oftentimes able to establish a unique connection with male youth in the system,” says Gilbert Cantu, a Teen Advocacy Specialist at CASA. “Most caseworkers in the child welfare system are women. When it comes to opening up and being honest about certain experiences the kids have had, they tend not to be as honest to someone who they don’t relate to as much or to someone who hasn’t shared some similar experiences…the rapport can be more easily built with a male volunteer.”
Indeed, the gender gap is evident across all professions involved in the child welfare system—from CPS caseworkers and lawyers to judges, teachers, and therapists, even CASA employees. The system surrounds these kids with women more often than not.
We encourage everyone who is interested in becoming a CASA volunteer to be aware of how gender norms affect the kids we serve, and we strive to one day have enough CASA volunteers, both men and women, for every youth who needs one.
Interested in becoming a CASA volunteer? Learn more or submit your application on our Volunteer page, or sign up for an upcoming Volunteer Info Session to get your questions answered. You can even become a “co-CASA” with a partner or friend! Check out our blog about co-CASAs Katelyn and Austin and how they work together to advocate for kids in the system.
*Names have been altered to protect the confidentiality of the children we serve.
Advocacy 2018 Recruitment July