How many times have you seen a news report or read an article in the paper about an abused or neglected child? Or even worse, heard of a horrific death of an at-risk child in the care of an adult who ill-equipped to provide such care. Like you, I’ve seen these stories … and I also know that social workers are overworked and understaffed. I’ve always been so moved by these sad stories, and I’ve wanted to help. But, I felt my hands were tied. How was I going to help? I don’t have a master’s degree in social work or counseling.
In thinking about these children, I’d often imagined a volunteer “army” of caring people who, working together, could help monitor the children and maybe make a difference. Over the years, I have been on fundraising committees for different organizations, but I’m a gal of elbow grease and much prefer to be in the trenches.
One day, over the morning paper and a cup of coffee, I ran across an article about a woman who was a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA). The articled detailed how she served as the “eyes and ears for the judge,” and an impartial advocate for the child. Perfect! This seemed like exactly what I had been looking for and I wanted to know more. I found their website (www.casala.org) and read all about the organization and its work with kids in foster care. I immediately signed up for an information session, then did an interview and took the seven-week training course (that was actually really interesting and fun). Before I knew it, I was getting sworn in by the judge and assigned my first case.
I was assigned a preteen boy who was living in a group home. During our first meeting, he wouldn’t talk to me and would barely look at me. But, I kept going back. After a couple meetings I invited him to go to a public pool with me. He resisted at first, but when the other boys in the house said they wanted to go, (by law you can only take the person you are advocating for), he felt like the big cheese and decided to go. There, he slowly started to open up … a little. I kept at him though. I got him in a summer basketball camp and made sure he had transportation. He was afraid of the dentist, so I found a dentist and sat with him while he had cavities filled and a broken tooth bonded. And, I was with him for his court dates, when no one else was. I even pleaded his case – that he was really a smart, sweet kid – to his lawyer, who didn’t know him well because of their huge case loads.
There are so many kids like him in the system – not just here in Los Angeles, but all over the country. Lawyers, judges, social workers – they try. But they hardly know who these kids are. What these kids in foster care need is an advocate who will speak up for them. Who will show up for them. And who will truly care about the outcome of their lives.
This young man and I certainly had our ups and downs. Sometimes he would fold his arms and refuse to look at me – and nothing I did would bring him out of it. But I just kept coming back. Eventually, this young man’s situation changed, and after 10 years in group homes he went back to his family. The last time we saw each other he was happy, engaging, laughing and teasing me … not to mention giving me the most unbelievable EYE CONTACT. Now that was huge!
I made a difference in this boy’s life – I can’t tell you how satisfying that is. I could go on and on about this, but my point is that there are sweet children out there who are victims of their circumstances … and we have the capacity to understand and to help. Knowing that you can impact their lives (in little and big ways) is pretty powerful.
I am now on my third case – another pre-teen boy who gets in trouble a lot and lives in a group home. I met him for the first time the other day, and as I was sitting and talking with him, I could see what a sweet guy he is. What can I do to ensure he doesn’t fall through the cracks … to show him that someone cares about him? That is my challenge…
CASA is a national organization doing amazing work throughout the country. Please look it up in your town … you will be blown away by the difference you can make.
PS – If any of you are already CASAs or sign up to become one, let me know! I’d love to hear your stories!!