Tulare County launches Its Family Search and Engagement Program

Chronicle Youth VoicesFoster children between the ages of zero to 21 in Tulare County in California will have the option to reconnect with a distant family member or loved one while in care with the new Family Search and Engagement Program.

Volunteers from Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) will search for distant family members such as aunts, older cousins, or grandparents, and loved ones including teachers, coaches, or neighbors, who have their own families and who want to participate in the foster child’s life.

“Every child has an average of 40 connections that can be found in a couple of hours,” said Marilyn Barr, executive director of CASA of Tulare County in a release. “This isn’t about placement of the child. It’s about creating a space where they feel they belong, because of people who are consistently in their lives.”

The program was launched this month with the intention to run for three years with funding from First 5. The planning grant is for developing the protocols and procedures with the court system, Tulare County HHSA, and to begin to train CASA advocates in the area. An undisclosed amount of funding was given to launch the program for it’s first six months. Another undisclosed amount will fund the program for the next three years. The funding will cover the training courses for volunteers, agency visits, and employee salaries.

The dependency court will authorize CASA to appoint the child with a family member or loved one who will meet the child, then the child will have the option to keep in contact. The child will have visits with their person of choice. Their connectedness will give the child the feeling of stability and consistency.

“The program is about connections and not placements,” said Sally Saunders, Case Supervisor for The Family Search and Engagement Program.

Fifteen new Volunteers from CASA will go through special training to help search for a foster child’s distant family member or loved one.

The volunteers are required to be over 21 without a criminal record. Volunteers do not need a degree but must go through a screening process, an easy hour long process which will determine the volunteers eligibility. After, the volunteer will attend a mandatory orientation, fill out an application, and complete training.

“The volunteers must have an innocent heart to serve an innocent child,” Said Saunders.

By Bonita Tindle, a fellow for Journalism for Social Change, and a third year at San Francisco State University. 

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