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Article originally appeared in the Long Beach Grunion Gazette on June 19, 2014.

By Sarah Whiteford

Most volunteer work involves cooking, cleaning or raising money for an organization, but not very many volunteers can say they have provided emotional and educational support to an abused/neglected foster child.

Betsy Burch is one of those rare volunteers. For two years, she has worked with seven children as a Los Angeles Court-Appointed Special Advocates For Children Volunteer. Before she became a volunteer, she worked 36 years as a special education mediator. She said her experience in the education field has helped her work with CASA foster children, who sometimes have learning disabilities, physical disabilities or have emotional and mental health problems.

Like most volunteers, Burch had to provide judges with critical information to ensure that a child’s needs are being met in foster care. According to CASA LA’s Web site, research has shown that children with a CASA volunteer are less likely to spend time in long-term foster care. This is why volunteers are expected to stay with CASA children until a case is closed or when they are placed in a permanent home.

“CASA is well respected with judges and the court system,” Burch said. “Sometimes volunteers have to give the courts information and they base a lot of their decisions on that. It was a bonus I wasn’t expecting and it’s very rewarding.”

Because of her educational background, the court also gave Burch permission to attend her CASA charges’ school meetings to ensure their special educational needs are met. Two of those children will be graduating high school and one will be graduating community college this month.

Burch said that CASA also has been a very pleasing experience because she has created friendships with her children. She said the trust level of a new child is a little low at first, but with time, they open up more and the trust grows. She also said the easiest way to overcome a trust obstacle is to simply be there for them.

According to CASA LA’s Web site, there are 26,000 children who have been abused or neglected and are currently under the jurisdiction of the court. Burch said only 1,000 of those children will have a CASA volunteer. Studies also show that foster children who never get a CASA volunteer are at higher risk for criminal behavior, academic failure, antisocial personalities and addictions.
Because of these statistics, CASA of LA will be hosting a volunteer recruiting event called Superhero Roundup from 10 to 11:30 a.m. this Saturday, June 21, at the First Congregational Church of Long Beach, 241 Cedar Ave.

Officials will discuss the importance of their volunteers, the training process and the flexibility of volunteer schedules. Burch said most volunteers work less than 20 hours a month and some even volunteer while working full-time jobs.

“People who volunteer want something out of helping kids,” Burch said. “I’m really pleased. This is what I want to do.”

Burch said that even though she is of retirement age, she wants to continue being an adult mentor for her 8-year-old and 12-year-old CASA kids, and hopes to see them graduate high school. She plans on continuing friendships with them even after graduation.

“One of my graduating kids helps me walk during our visits and he will ask me why it makes me him feel good,” Burch said. “I told him it’s because you’re helping someone.”

For more information on CASA of Los Angeles or the Superhero Roundup event, visit www.casala.org/superhero-round-up/.

Sarah Whiteford can be reached at sarah.whiteford@gazettes.com.