Utah to Arizona #21: Volunteering for CASA

Did you know the last person to be personally represented in a juvenile court case involving custody is the child? Ever heard of CASA? I mean besides the first word in the last Mexican restaurant you enjoyed.

CASA is an acronym for Court Appointed Special Advocate. www.casaforchildren.org. The program was started by Superior Court Judge David Soukup in Seattle, Washington in 1976 when he did not have enough information on juvenile cases to make a decision that benefited the child long term.

He wasn’t talking about unhappy often litigious custody battles in divorces of two basically good parents. He meant the court cases that hit the dead end of deciding if there is a parent or interested party who is capable and willing to care for a child who has been abandoned, neglected, or physically endangered. Some cases hit TV news when parents have a meth lab or get in jail for ___________ (name what you will). Others hit the morgue. Most you never hear about.

The CASA program enlists volunteers to be trained as advocates for the child. It was so successful in Washington that in time it was implemented in all fifty states. Each state administers it differently with most running the program through a non-profit 501(c). Arizona has tucked it under the judicial branch where it operates on unclaimed winnings from the state lottery. That pays for some staffing and training (I mean really, how many people don’t claim their lottery prize money?), but it relies only on volunteers to represent the child.

Well, here I am. I am one. Sixteen other people and I went to a two day training and I feel overwhelmed and scared in an adult way that knows physically it is not challenging. Emotionally I’m already scarred from living so another slash or two shouldn’t shatter this old heart though it may weaken it. More comforting is knowing there are people to guide me through the learning process.

Why am I doing this? A beauty of moving to a new environment is the power to recalibrate life to who I am now without encumbrances from where I lived. CASA is in Utah too, but I was involved in other things. I decided it was time to volunteer in a tougher, one-on-one situation. Nationally 77,000 other people are also doing this and 930 of them are in Arizona.

Parents have their lawyers who speak for them. The state case manager wants to do the right thing for the child via the laws, but with dozens of children to represent personal care can unintentionally be shuffled aside for administrative efficiency. Schools have thousands of children. Doctors have many patients. All of them care for the child but they have competing, sometimes higher priority interests.

Volunteering means:

Getting to know one child.

Verifying a safe environment exists for the child.

Working toward family reunification as the preferred conclusion.

Representing the child’s interest in that reunification or identify another permanent situation as the long-term solution when it isn’t possible.

Talking with teachers and checking at school records.

Knowing who is now taking care of the child.

Meeting parents or other involved family.

Making sure attention is being paid to medical issues.

Presenting an outsider’s view of the child’s interests with passion and informed knowledge to the judge who has the burden of decision in a child’s future.

 

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12 Responses to Utah to Arizona #21: Volunteering for CASA

  1. Carrie Rubin says:

    How wonderful that you’re doing this! It will no doubt take a toll on you emotionally, but you’ll be helping children in need, children who may otherwise not have a voice. My hat’s off to you.

  2. I so admire you for doing this! I’ve thought about it, but I’m the world’s biggest procrastinator. The children will really benefit from your compassion and wisdom. 🙂

    • We’ve raised our boys haven’t we? And done a good job of it, so we don’t need to do any more. Been there and done good. Bu I’m hoping to use a bit of what I’ve learned, trying to help, but I know every human is different. Thanks for the message.

  3. ibdesignsusa says:

    I too think that it is wonderful that you are doing this. Emotionally it may be hard at times but knowing that you will make a difference is great.

  4. This is a huge contribution. How does your heart stand up? More power to YOU, Rebecca.
    This is the first I’ve heard of such voluntary involvement.

  5. I feel honored you are visiting this blog while you are still suffering from time change challenges. Thanks and I’m looking forward to hearing about your trip.

  6. Thank you for doing this. It is incredibly important for kids in court situations. I’m sure you will see and hear things that will surprise you and make you sad but I’m also sure you will be making a difference in a child’s life.

  7. Thanks. I think it will be a very different kind of venture. I’m equally frightened and anticipating it. Thanks for commenting.

  8. Bumba says:

    Sounds like a very fine thing you’re doing.

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