Gee Ali, why haven’t you been writing any blog posts lately? Where have you been?
Good question! Well, in addition to being a full-time preschool teacher, an occasional babysitter, girlfriend extraordinaire, and mother to a very naughty hamster, I am also now a full-fledged CASA!
But what is a CASA?
I’m glad you asked. A CASA - court-appointed special advocate, also sometimes called a guardian ad litem - works one-on-one with children in the dependency system, providing emotional and educational support while working to make sure the child’s voice is heard in court. CASAs are mentors, confidantes, and cheerleaders. CASAs collaborate with social workers, attorneys, foster parents, biological parents, teachers, counselors, and other service providers to get a full picture of a child’s situation and their needs, and communicate those needs in court as they advocate for the best interest of their CASA child.
So it’s like being a mentor?
Yes and no. Mentoring is only part of being a CASA. CASAs are sworn officers of the court, appointed by a judge to advocate one-on-one for children in the foster care system. CASAs write reports for judges and attend hearings and other legal meetings that concern their child. It’s more than just mentoring.
How did you become a CASA?
I actually heard about CASA through my sorority, Kappa Alpha Theta. Every sorority has a philanthropy, a charity or cause they support, and ours was CASA. Throughout my time in Theta, we had several speakers from the CASA organization come to talk to us about the work they did. As a child development major and as someone who knows she is going to spend the rest of her life working with children, I was immediately hooked. I couldn’t join the organization while I was still in college - the minimum age requirement is twenty-one - but I filed it away in the back of my mind and resolved to look into it more after I graduated.
Flash forward six months. After I finally got settled with Jenni, my job, and my life out here, I made the decision to start the process of becoming a CASA. I attended an orientation session and had a long and very in-depth interview with a CASA supervisor. Then I started training.
CASA training is no joke. It takes about a month or so, and involves rigorous background checks, two three-hour classes a week, one whole-day seminar, and a visit to dependency court. The class topics range from things like cultural sensitivity and communication to confidentiality to domestic violence to learning about the dependency system to hearing from real parents whose children were placed in foster care. The classes are jam-packed with information, which is often painful and difficult to process. I would often leave feeling like my brain was falling out of my ears. I also had some serious doubts, especially in the beginning, about whether or not I was mentally and emotionally strong enough to do this.
At the end of the process, I took an oath and was sworn in by a judge, and I now have a very official-looking certificate hanging on my fridge at home. Jenni embarrassed me greatly at the swearing-in ceremony by whooping and hollering. She was super supportive throughout the whole process and continues to be supportive now.
So what happened after that?
At the swearing-in ceremony, I was appointed a CASA supervisor, who guided me through the process of matching me with a child in the dependency system. I email her constantly, whenever I have a question (and I have probably had many stupid ones) and she is lovely and incredibly helpful and always responds to my emails. I was eventually matched with a child and received a court order that officially designated me as her CASA. Then I took it from there!
Do you like being a CASA? Is it hard?
As of right now, I really, really enjoy being a CASA. I love spending time with my CASA child and getting to know them as the wonderful little human that they are. A lot of what I’m doing at this point is reaching out to people involved with the case to get information and to talk about what I can do to help meet my child’s needs. I write a lot of emails, I make a lot of phone calls. I will go to court hearings in the future and write reports for them. But I am fascinated by how many moving parts there are in cases like this, and I genuinely enjoy advocating for my child. It can be intimidating sometimes, talking to so many professionals and older people that I don’t know. But whenever I spend time with my CASA child it just reinforces how important it is for me to help them get what they need so that they can be successful in their journey.
How can I learn more about being a CASA?
Fantastic question! You are welcome to ask me questions about my experience being a CASA - I’m really passionate about getting more people involved. But if you want some more ~official~ information, you can check out https://casaforchildren.org