Amid surge in kids entering Fairfax Co. child welfare system, nonprofit seeks volunteers

WTOP's Gigi Barnett reports on an increase in children entering the welfare system in Fairfax County, Virginia

A dramatic increase in kids entering the child welfare system in Fairfax County, Virginia, has led a nonprofit organization to ask for volunteers — especially those who identify as Black, Hispanic and Spanish speaking.

More than 230 kids entered the county’s child welfare system between July 2022 and June 2023 — a 138% increase from the group’s last fiscal year, according to a recent news release from Fairfax Court Appointed Special Advocates, also called CASA.

The nonprofit expects this need for services to keep growing. Darcy Hubbard, the group’s executive director, said other local agencies and the county’s Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court agree “all of our systems are overwhelmed and that families in our community are in crisis.”

“I think it is fair to say that we are all a bit different coming out of the COVID lockdown than when we went in,” Hubbard said. “The families we work with were hit the hardest and continue to struggle with a myriad of issues including financial challenges, mental health challenges and substance abuse issues.”

The organization’s volunteers are each assigned to work with a child in the system. Responsibilities include visiting the child at least twice a month, attending all of the child’s hearings and meetings and writing reports for the court.

“We haven’t seen numbers like this since 2014. We have volunteers who have taken on a second and third case. It’s a crisis,” Alexis Shield, CASA in Fairfax County’s volunteer recruitment manager, told WTOP.

Children who have a volunteer advocate by their side have better outcomes in finding permanent homes, see a reduced risk of reentry into the system due to re-abuse or delinquency and receive more services to meet their individual needs, according to the nonprofit.

Having an advocate gives children “a sense of security and predictability” in an otherwise uncertain time, Shield said.

The nonprofit said that the program especially needs Black, Latino and Spanish-speaking volunteers.

The training includes attending a virtual information session, an application process and about 40 hours of instruction, Shield said.

Hubbard said in the news release that, while the existing CASAs are “exceptional,” the group needs “a volunteer pool that is reflective of the children and families we serve.”

“Our children are thrust into a complicated and scary system, and they deserve an advocate who walks into the room on day one, who looks like them, understands their culture and background, and who speaks their language,” Hubbard said. “That is the least we can do for our kids.”

Currently, 41% of kids working with the nonprofit are Hispanic/Latino, and 38% are Black.

Seventy-five percent of the more than 60 kids on the waitlist for a CASA are children of color, according to the organization.

“How we can make sure these kids are getting what they need is to provide them with the advocacy in someone who looks like them, speaks their language and shares their culture? When children have an advocate with whom they share that cultural or language background, they feel more supported,” Shield told WTOP.

If you would like to volunteer, head here.

Anybody interested in learning more about becoming an advocate can email Shield at Volunteers must be at least 21 years old.

WTOP’s Gigi Barnett contributed to this report. 

Kate Corliss

Kate Corliss is a Digital Writer/Editor for She is a senior studying journalism at American University and serves as the Campus Life Editor for the student newspaper, The Eagle.

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