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Arizona’s foster care system in need of child advocates

Rebecca Pusch of Mesa was a court-appointed special advocate for seven years. She's now a foster parent. (KTAR News/Griselda Zetino)

PHOENIX — Each child in Arizona’s foster care system is supposed to get an advocate who looks out for their best interest, but only a small fraction of them actually do.

The latest numbers by the Arizona Department of Child Safety show there are more than 14,200 children in foster care statewide. About 1 in 6 of these children have a court-appointed special advocate, according to the Arizona Supreme Court.

“They are appointed by a judge to report on the best interest of a child in foster care,” said Rebecca Pusch, a Mesa resident who was a court-appointed special advocate, or CASA, for seven years and now mentors others. “They get to know the child and they also get to review all of the information in the case.”

Pusch, who is now a foster parent, said CASA volunteers play a critical role in the lives of children in foster care.

They spend time with the children, often taking them out to fun activities, such as sporting events, movie theaters and out to eat.

The CASA volunteers also get to know the important figures in the children’s lives, including their parents, relatives, foster parents, teachers and medical professionals.

They then use the information to make informed recommendations regarding the child’s needs.

“I’ve always felt that this population of children needs all the support that they can get,” Pusch said.

No special background or education is required to become a CASA volunteer.

To qualify, applicants must be at least 21 years old, go through a background check, complete 30 hours of training and be willing to commit to a case until it’s closed.

Once approved, they are expected to spend about 20 hours a month on a case. They sometimes will get assigned to a single child or a group of siblings.

The Arizona Supreme Court, which oversee the CASA program, told KTAR News 92.3 FM there’s a need for a diverse group of caring adults who are willing to volunteer their time to help children in foster care.

The latest data available by the state Supreme Court shows statewide there were 1,269 CASA volunteers in May 2019. In Maricopa County, there were 664 CASA volunteers.

Pusch said “everyday people” can become CASA volunteers as long as they’re committed.

“It does require a good commitment — it’s not something you can do one hour a month,” she added. “But it’s something where you can really make a difference.”

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