I'm so excited to share with you about a new thing in my life. I have become a "Court Appointed Special Advocate," or CASA. While most of my journey as a CASA will be private, I did want to take a moment to publicly update and share what this means.
A CASA volunteer is a community-member who is appointed by a judge to watch over and advocate for abused and neglected children. Sometimes legal and social service systems can be overburdened, and lawyers or attorneys are assigned to so many cases, they just don't have the bandwidth to dig deep in all of their cases. A CASA volunteer comes in to support and advocate for a child, who may not be able to advocate for themselves.
What's really cool is that children with CASA volunteers are substantially less likely to spend time in long-term foster care and less likely to reenter care.
I found out about the CASA program three or four years ago when I lived in Virginia during some late night googling. I had seen another one of my friends become foster parents, and my internet trail started there, as I dreamed about one day becoming a foster parent myself. Being an RA and then an RD at Liberty had shown me how passionate I was about helping people, although no part of me wanted to go into counseling, etc. I liked the real life, practical parts of taking one step forward. And that was maybe what attracted me to Foster Care. But that opportunity seemed so far off. Jake and I were not married yet, and I felt too young. And that's how I found the CASA program.
I was still a little discouraged because it required a two-year commitment. Cases of child abuse or neglect are not clean cut, and they can take a while to close. While I desperately wanted to stay in Lynchburg, Jake's career options were so slim there. We agreed that he would start applying for jobs out of town as soon as we got married. So I put the whole thing out of my mind. Where it stayed for a long time.
Moving to Colorado was a big change for me, but the dust finally, eventually settled. Jake and I are both pretty content in our jobs, grateful for our church, excited to keep building community.
But in late April last year, I had a dear friend from growing up pass away suddenly and tragically. It shook me and still does. It pushed me a little into denial, but mostly it brought heartbreaking guilt of all the things I didn't say, all the ways I wasn't there. Ultimately, it led me to researching volunteer opportunities once again. I wanted to give back and in honor of my friend, I wanted to help hurting people take one step forward, no matter how small. I knew I couldn't change anyone's life, but my biggest, biggest regret is that I just wasn't around to tell my friend that I loved her and that I would be there for her. To just hold on one more day. And ultimately that's when the CASA program found it's way back into my mind.
It took a while to get the process started. I went to an interest meeting, then submitted an application. Waited for my background check to clear. Had an interview. Finally, I was accepted into the training program, which was an intensive four days in January. I got home from the 8 hour first day of training SO jazzed and excited about this. It reminded me of RA training, but felt more real.
In training we learned about the judicial process and court system. We learned about developmental benchmarks, to be aware of where/how our CASA kids might be delayed. We researched local organizations that could be a resource to us in the future, and role played as how a CASA would handle so many different scenarios. I loved it.
After completing training, I visited court to observe some cases and that's when it felt real to me. Watching mothers who have made big mistakes fight over the cases of their children, sometimes in agreement with the judge and sometimes against. It was a day called "phone court," or something like that, where parents called in if they weren't able to be there in person. All of the phone calls were made from jails. I immediately developed so much respect for the Magistrate, and I can not imagine having a job with that much pressure.
Anyways, after all that, Tuesday night we had our swearing in ceremony at the Boulder County courthouse. I proudly took an oath to faithfully protect and promote the best interest of the child I am assigned to. And now I am an official CASA volunteer, awaiting my first case.
The way it works from here is that a child will enter the court system, either as a "DNN" case (dependency and neglect) or as a Truancy case, and the Magistrate will hear the case and then assign a CASA as part of the treatment moving forward. From there, the office overseeing CASA's will reach out to their volunteers to find someone who is a good match. They will "pitch" the case, and the CASA volunteer will have the choice to accept or wait for a different case that they feel might be a better fit. So I'm in the waiting game.
After I accept a case, I will not be able to share anything about my child - from their age to their situation - nothing. So I wanted to take today to share in detail about this opportunity.
The organization overseeing CASA's is called Voices for Children, and they have offices all over the country. They had one in Lynchburg, and have one in Fairfax where my parents live. If this is something you're interested in, I'd start here by researching your local chapter. There are many other ways to get involved besides becoming a CASA, since that does have a significant time commitment. You can obviously donate funds, or even services from your organization.
During training we had a panel of current CASA's, and I heard some great ideas on what the adults did with their kids. One woman took her teenage CASA kid to get a facial. She called the spa and explained the situation, and the spa gave the child's service for free (it counts as a tax-deductible donation). Another CASA who also was paired with a teenager had taken him on "career" days to local businesses and universities, like IBM, Google, and different schools at the University of Colorado. If you work in a company that might be able to donate services or time, I'd reach out to your local chapter and offer!
The Boulder chapter has a fundraising luncheon coming up this April, called "Light of Hope." It's just an hour or hour and a half on April 19th at CU, and I will be a table leader, responsible for bringing 6 friends who may be interested in learning more, and hopefully donating or volunteering. Let me know if you'd like to come with me to that!
Thanks for reading and sharing this with me. Going through this process has made me feel so grateful for my community. Let me know if you have any questions!