When I became a CASA, I wanted to give a voice to the children who were in the care of the state. I know personally what it’s like to be in a courtroom and have everyone talking for you, but not having anyone asking what you want. I wanted to be the person who speaks up for the child.
Now as a CASA for almost two years, I have had the opportunity to work with several youths. These children, as well as the whole process, have taught me a lot. I learned quickly that I needed to work on my case as soon as I got it. I learned to read through all of the court orders, any medical documentations and any notes that I received from other service providers. In a few cases, I found that the children had medical needs that may not have been properly addressed. This gave me a starting point in my advocacy and gave me a good way to learn about the child and some of the issues that brought them into the state’s care.
After reading through all the documentation, I met with my child. I learned that initially, they were wary of me. These children have had to deal with moving from their families, possibly having their case managers changed, and maybe even spending time in the Regional Youth Detention Center. But once they saw that I was a consistent person working for them to have their best life going forward, they opened up. I listened carefully and made sure that I asked follow-up questions. Some of the children are amazing poets and like to dance!
For my kids who were living in group homes, I developed a relationship with the Human Services Professional and Program Manager. These professionals have insight into what the child is going through daily, and if any problems arise in their behavior, they will contact the CASA immediately. In one of my cases, the Program Manager called me whenever the child had a bad day at school or during a home visit. This allowed me the opportunity to alert everyone on the case about incidences in the child’s life that they wouldn’t have known otherwise.
In the beginning, talking to the parents of the child was difficult. At times, they didn’t trust me and they wouldn’t return my calls. In some situations, I had my children who were in contact with their parents reach out on my behalf to open the lines of communication. I started by explaining that I am a volunteer and explained carefully what I can and cannot do.
I have learned to established a relationship with the Department of Family & Children Services (DFCS) Case Managers and, if applicable, the Probation Officers. I have had wonderful relationships with my Case Managers. Together, we would conduct joint virtual visits with kids. I have witnessed the emancipation process and we would inform each other about home visits that we had conducted. The Probation Officers are also helpful because they see the children often. While the child may not talk with them much, they can alert you to any abnormal behavior which I could address the next time I met with my child.
Even with all this support, things don’t always go as planned. Through experience, I learned to be sure that I had a backup plan if the original doctor you wanted the child to see isn’t taking new patients, or the visitation schedule isn’t working the way everyone thought it would. At each step, I explained everything to my child and worked through their feelings about unpredicted changes.
And through all the ups and downs, I kept my Coordinator informed. Sometimes, I called my Coordinator just to vent. Other times I called him to figure out the best move going forward. Vent to them if you need, because the CASA Coordinators are the go-to resource if there are any problems in your case. And most importantly, they are there to help you celebrate your successes.
Being a CASA has been a very rewarding experience for me. I have witnessed a non-verbal autistic child say my nickname. I was on hand when a teen stopped getting into fights at home and school and started to dream of becoming a neurosurgeon. And I was able to assist a child who had left residential placements to reunite with her mother.
Being a CASA sometimes means becoming the parent, aunt, uncle, sister, or brother that the child needs. When you advocate on their behalf, you are giving them a chance to become more than their current situation. You are giving them hope.