Lilian Galiano became a Court Appointed Special Advocate volunteer for the nonprofit organization Voices for Children when she felt a diminishing faith in humanity.
The mother of four and Navy veteran said she had always volunteered to help immigrants and refugees. In 2018, she volunteered to help Afghan refugees but wanted to find more ways to contribute to society.
“I was losing faith in humanity,” Galiano said. “I heard about Voices for Children on NPR first. Then, I took my kids surfing in Oceanside and saw banners on the street. I took it as a sign to volunteer.”
Galiano called Voices for Children, received a brochure, then began Advocate University, a rigorous six-week training program provided by the nonprofit to become a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for foster youth. Advocate University includes 35 hours of instruction covering topics like child development and dependency law, with a nominal fee for training that can be waived if needed.
The nonprofit provides a test at the end of the program, which certifies passing individuals as CASAs.
“It was one of those things where you connect the dots in life, and it happened,”Galiano said.
As the only agency designated by the courts to provide CASA volunteers in San Diego and Riverside Counties, Voices for Children's CASAs play a crucial role in helping judges make the most informed decisions for children's futures. CASA volunteers commit to advocating for the needs of children or siblings groups to ensure their needs are met, and oftentimes become the most constant person in the child’s life.
Shortly after becoming a CASA, Galiano was assigned to a pair of siblings whose native language was Spanish and knew little to no English.
“Siblings are usually not assigned to newly graduated CASAs,” said Galiano, who has fluent bilingual capabilities. “I got a pair of siblings, and other things came into it like immigration and Spanish was their only language, and they immediately became my first case.”
The case has evolved in three years, according to Galiano. Since being assigned, the youngest sibling reunified with their family. The older sibling turned 18 in that time frame but requested to keep Galiano as a CASA until she turns 21, or until a CASA is no longer needed.
“I feel fortunate that she allowed me to stay because we grew so much. We accomplished so much for her,” Galiano said.
Both siblings gained access to educational, medical, and life resources through Voices for Children. Galiano was able to enroll the older sibling in the San Diego Regional Medical Center, and she will have lifelong resources and immigration resources.
“One phone call can make a difference in the life of someone who is innocent and has almost no control over their own life because they are minors,” Galiano said.
According to Galiano, there is a need for CASA volunteers.
“Being a CASA is very rewarding and very doable. The kids that need you are looking for you to be a constant in their lives, and that is what a CASA is, a constant,” Galiano said. “You just need to have the heart, the will, and the desire to help children that have gone through things that no one should go through.”
At the time of becoming a CASA, Galiano worked in the Medical Modeling and Simulation & Mission Support for the U.S. Department of Defense. After seeing the need for bi-lingual CASAs, Galiano decided to apply for a graduate program at the University of Southern California for a master’s in social work, and began volunteering with other communities in need.
Galiano left her job in research and now serves the aging community as a full-time caregiver for a couple with dementia.
“I'm just expanding my horizons. There is a need for humanity and empathy, and I teach my children that,” Galiano said. “I think more CASAs can help. We're not paid. We do it for the children. We do it because we care."