By Joyce Coronel
With 12,000 children in foster care in Maricopa County alone, the ability to have a positive impact on these young lives might seem to be more in the realm of superheroes rather than mere mortals.
Turns out everyone has an opportunity to become a superhero Sunday, April 9 when the fourth annual Superhero Race to benefit foster kids takes place at Kiwanis Park in Tempe.
A local organization known as Voices for CASA Children is sponsoring the event that features races, games and, naturally, kids dressing up as superheroes.
“Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA volunteers) are the real-life superheroes for thousands of children, and this signature fundraising event helps make it all possible,” said Robin Pearson, executive director of Voices for CASA Children.
“There’s such an immense need for more advocates in Maricopa County—we’re hoping this event inspires the community to learn more about the CASA program and the amazing children it supports.”
As an officer of the court, a CASA volunteer visits with the foster child and anyone involved in his or her life, from foster parents to teachers and doctors. A Court Appointed Special Advocate serves as the eyes and ears of the judge and submits a report before each court hearing with recommendations about the child’s best interest.
A CASA volunteer is often the most consistent person in a foster child’s life and is especially valuable because he or she typically focuses on one child or sibling group at a time, said Pearson.
Tempe resident Robyn Radway heard about the CASA program when she was undergoing training as a foster parent. Ultimately, she decided not to become a foster parent but opted instead to serve as a CASA volunteer.
“I am so happy to be able to make a difference in the life of a child and their time in the system,” Radway said. As a licensed private investigator and tax preparer, Radway has a keen eye for detail and documentation. “I really delve into my cases and know how to navigate the criminal system,” she said.
Do you have to have that kind of background to be a CASA volunteer? “
“I think all types of people—all walks of life— are needed,” Radway said. “Everybody brings their own unique experience as to how they handle each case. Everybody’s been a kid and can relate and many have been parents or grandparents, aunts and uncles.”
That life experience comes into play when CASAs decide which foster child they’d like to represent. “You read through tons of cases of neglect and abuse,” Radway said. “You choose one that speaks to you and you dig in. Then you visit the child immediately and establish a rapport.”
CASA volunteers must be 21 years old and be willing to undergo a background check plus 30 hours of training, among other requirements.
Currently, there are 1,000 CASA volunteers in Arizona. “The goal is to recruit one CASA for every single child so everyone has a voice,” said Lauren Vargas, publicist for the Superhero Race. Radway said one of the most important things about CASA volunteers is that they are a steadfast, consistent voice in a foster child’s life.
“On every case, there are many turnovers,” Radway said. Judges, lawyers, social workers come and go. Children with a CASA volunteer assigned to their case are more likely to receive services, spend less time in the child welfare system and are less likely to return to foster care.
The Superhero Race includes a timed 5K race, a 1K Fun Run, and a Kids Dash/Villain Chase by age group. The events start at 8:30 a.m. April 9 at Kiwanis Park in Tempe, located at 5299 S. Ash Ave., Tempe, with registration beginning at 7 a.m. Information: voicesforcasachildren.org.