Being a CASA: Another Way to Help Kids
My kids are grown, and while my spouse and I have agreed to be done parenting, we still want to help kids, so I became a CASA. CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocate. In some places, they call this person GAL, Guardian Ad Litem. I, along with my husband, have been doing it for several months. In that time, 9 children have crossed our path–mostly sibling groups, from a tiny newborn right up to a teenager. I have probably made a lot of mistakes, and I am definitely still learning, yet I am so glad I took this leap.
What is a CASA?
A CASA is a trained volunteer who has passed background checks and interviews. A CASA gets to know a child or sibling group who is in foster care. We talk to the child, the parents, foster parents, caseworkers, lawyers, teachers, counselors, family members, etc. A CASA must read all the documents pertaining to the child and visit them wherever they are living. We get to know their history, needs, and desires. We also get to know their families, then we gather all this information and write a report to the judge.
CASAs use their research and knowledge of the child, the family, and the case, to advocate for the best interest of the child. Of course each child has a caseworker, but that caseworker has many other cases and must follow CPS procedures. Each child also has a lawyer, but that lawyer must represent the child’s wishes. We all know that children’s desires may not always be the same as their best interest. Besides, like the caseworkers, the lawyers may have several cases at once, while the CASA ideally has only one case at a time. In places where there are not enough volunteers, a CASA who has the time might occasionally have two or even three cases at once, but no more. This allows us to focus deeply on the children we serve.
What does being a CASA look like?
Sometimes–this is my favorite part–it looks like a child giving me a hug and a smile. But that is just one small part. It can mean lots of time on the phone, or time on the computer, emailing, researching, and writing reports. Sometimes it involves a lot of waiting, maybe in the car, or for your case to be called at court. You might feel a toddler’s heart pound as they meet the people at their fifth home in six months. Sometimes it means sharing tears of joy with parents as children come home or when families celebrate an adoption; other times it means comforting children or families who are upset at how things went. It might look like explaining to a teen that even “stupid” rules must be followed. Sometimes it means shopping–birthdays, Christmas, court-appropriate clothing–or maybe going out for a burger or some ice cream. It could look like playing a game, coloring, or rocking a newborn in your arms. Sometimes it’s admitting you don’t have the answers and promising to look for them.
A great community
I knew when I signed up that I would love the kids. I have always loved kids. What I did not expect is that I would come to care so much about some of the parents. That I would care about the foster parents and caseworkers and even some of the attorneys. Lawyer jokes aside, I have met some amazing lawyers and judges who work hard for these kids. I have learned that there are so many people involved in each case, and so many trying to help.
Of course I have met some people I do not agree with and some who, well, let’s just say we probably would not be friends. But honestly, mostly I have met good people. I have met my fellow CASAs. They are a diverse group. Some are retired, some have full time jobs, some are stay-at-home moms, some are disabled, some are married while others are not. All, no matter their background or age, want to help kids. I have an amazing supervisor who tirelessly answers questions, reminds me of things I forgot, and teaches me new things. Her patience and knowledge amaze me. The best part, though, is the kids. Each one has a place in my heart.
Is being a CASA for you?
Only you can answer that. But if you seek a way to help kids, and think maybe you could do this, find your local CASA or GAL organization. I bet they would love to have more help.