Fresno Mayor Lee Brand and CASA Executive Director Wilma Hashimoto in a 2019 File Photo.
Written by Donald A. Promnitz
The pandemic has changed much in the Central Valley, but the needs of children in foster care haven’t gone anywhere — in fact, the ones who provide them with care and advocacy need more support than ever.
So it’s a good thing that CASA Fresno/Madera Counties just set the record for the most volunteers in one season — 34 in total. According to Wilma Hashimoto, executive director, it’s the result of a community coming together in a time of crisis, joining to protect one of the Valley’s most vulnerable demographics. It was also a time when people at home found themselves looking for ways to give back.
“It was a really unique opportunity to have the judge, to see a screen of more than 50 — I think close to 60 people,” Hashimoto said. “We had family members from across the nation Zooming in to see their family member get sworn in as an advocate for CASA.”
Currently, there are roughly 200 advocates working with 350 children in foster care. These advocates are community volunteers who work with each case on a one-on-one basis (though an exception is made with siblings). This bond lasts from when they are assigned, to when the child ages out of foster care or is successfully integrated into a family.
Francisco Pelayo, senior advocate supervisor, says the arrival of so many new volunteers couldn’t have come at a better time as the closure of schools has made it harder to detect child abuse. Social distancing has also made work in spotting abuse and neglect more complicated.
“Teachers are probably the No. 1 mandated reporter of child abuse and there was a significant drop in those reports being provided,” he said. “It looked kind of good that the Covid kind of declined child abuse, but the reality of it was these kids were in these homes where there was not an outside person able to see in and potentially report that abuse.”
CASA trains new advocates in February, July and October.