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Volunteer

Advocating for Foster Children in Court

Stefany Schaefer is a three-year volunteer for CHD’s Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) Program of Hampden County, which works with Springfield and Holyoke Juvenile Courts—through one-on-one advocacy—to improve stability, opportunities, and permanency outcomes for children with active Care & Protection cases.

“Being a CASA is very rewarding,” said Schaefer. To anyone who is considering becoming a volunteer, she said her message is that he or she would make a huge difference in someone’s life. “It changes not only the child’s life, but also the way they will raise their children,” she said. “The impact trickles down generations.”

She pointed out that CASA-supported children are more likely to find a safe, permanent home, and succeed in the classroom. “More of them graduate from school,” she said. “When someone shows up for them, they in turn feel like they can show up for themselves.”

Schaefer is a paralegal who also had four years of experience in a New York City CASA program, but she insists that CASA volunteers come from all different backgrounds. “Someone might think that they are looking for retired lawyers or someone who knows the legal system well, but that’s not true,” she said. “Volunteers receive great training about the foster care system, the laws, and how to communicate with the stakeholders. And we love bringing in volunteers with new perspectives.”

Originally from Ecuador, Schaefer is bilingual and occasionally does translations for CASA.

A volunteer CASA provides important information about children involved in each case with presiding judges, including educational, behavioral, medical, family, and cultural needs to help them see the full picture. These certified CASAs build relationships and communicate with children, adults, and service providers because advocacy for educational, behavioral, medical, family, and cultural needs takes place in and out of court.

Three years ago, Schaefer started a book club for fellow CHD CASAs. Advocate Supervisor Lindsay Osborn is certainly appreciative of Schaefer’s efforts, pointing out that the book club texts help inform the program’s advocacy for those they serve. “Covering issues found in CASA cases, the books have afforded opportunities for CASA staff and volunteers to discuss topics of permanency, trauma, sexual abuse, and gender identity,” she said. “I can’t say enough good things about Stefany’s commitment and contributions to CASA.”

CHD’s CASA of Hampden County program is always seeking new volunteers to serve as advocates for children in need in the community. For more information, visit chd.org/casa or email Osborn at [email protected].