What, exactly, is a CASA?
A CASA is an adult willing to spend some time training to advocate for the best interest of a child who has landed, through no fault of their own, in the Child Protective Services (CPS) system.
A CASA is a trained mentor to a child in need.
A CASA is willing to make regular visits with the child and necessary phone calls to their providers (such as school personnel, therapists, and/or medical personnel).
Having spent time with the child, a CASA will attend the scheduled court hearings, going before the judge to testify as to what he/she believes is in the child's best interest.
A CASA does not always agree with the recommendations of CPS, because a CASA generally only handles one case at a time. A CASA gets to know the child better than the CPS worker who has dozens of families on their caseload each day.
A CASA is willing to drive the miles to be a consistent, caring individual the child can talk to, look up to, and confide in, during an emotional transition period.
Each CASA case lasts approximately 12-18 months.
I am just finishing my current CASA case. The young girl I have been mentoring since last summer is now sixteen, and mother to an eleven-month-old baby girl.
I was asked onto her case because of my life experience. My CASA supervisor thought we would be a great fit.
The first day I met with Beth* at the shelter, I shared some of my background as a way of trying to gain her trust. I told Beth I was someone who had similar life experience and therefore would not be judgmental of her situation.
During my next visit I gave her a copy of my book...to be honest, at first I wasn't sure she would even open it. Beth had been through some pretty intense life challenges, and I was uncertain as to how much she even cared for my company.
The next time we met, Beth told me she had read the entire book in one sitting! Our relationship from that point on was solid, and it has gotten even closer over the past ten months of visits and phone calls.
The great news is Beth and her baby were placed in a terrific home, where they have been given much guidance, support, and love. Sometimes Beth complains things are too structured for her taste, but we can all relate to that aspect of adolescence.
Because Beth's placement is 1.5 hours from my home, I am only able to actually visit and take her to lunch once a month, but I checked in on her weekly as well getting updates from her school and therapist. In the past year Beth has made great strides academically, emotionally, and as a young mother. I am SO proud of where she is today and I know she will continue to flourish in her new environment.
It hasn't always been easy to find the time to make the calls or drive the miles, but every effort on my part has been so worth what I have received in return.
There are many, many children in the Child Protective Services system who could use your time, your ears, your support. I really want to encourage you to look into your local CASA chapter.
*not her real name, but another of my favorite girl names