CASAs for Kids
Court-Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Sonoma County trains volunteers to advocate for foster children in the courts and other environments. In this interview, Family Life talks to an anonymous CASA volunteer about her role in children’s lives.
Family Life: Who appoints the CASA volunteer?
CASA Volunteer: The judge appoints the CASA. There is a backlog. There are not enough CASAs for the number of youth who need them.
FL: What kinds of things do you do as a volunteer?
CASA: The relationship to the court is primary. You need to be able to represent your kid’s [interests] to the court in a formal report. You also get to know your youth and the links that keep your youth’s life together, which means being in touch with school counselors, therapists, psychiatrists, social workers, and resource parents or group homes or placements. You have regular contact with your kid; I get together with my youth once a week. You aren’t meant to be a surrogate parent or teacher; you are really meant to be a unique person who is dedicated to that child.
FL: Give me some examples of how you spend time with your kid.
CASA: We go walking, get pizza, go to San Francisco, or ride on bikes or on the train.
FL: Do you talk to them about their concerns? Or just get to know them?
CASA: Yes, you get to know them. They don’t need another therapist, so you ask them about their interests. You are present to them but not [within the context of] your family and home—they don’t even know your address. It’s not about you, it’s about them.
FL: Explain how you represent a child in court.
CASA: When the court evaluates a youth’s case [to determine] whether there is going to be reunification [with the biological parents] or adoption, the judge has a written report from the social worker and a written report from the CASA volunteer, full stop. They don’t have any other written reports. So you weigh in fairly significantly. And it is the obligation to write a valid and comprehensive report for the court that is one of the [reasons] why you make all these connections [to therapists, resource parents, etc.].
FL: When you are filling out the court report, what kind of information do you provide? Do you share your thoughts concerning the effectiveness of the child’s relationship to their therapist? Do you comment on whether or not physical problems are being addressed?
CASA: Yes. As an example, if my youth is expressing self-harm thoughts, I would act on it long before the court report, but I would include it in the court report. I would contact the social worker, and either myself or the social worker would contact the therapist. Another piece that is very practical [includes] life skills and education resources. I make sure my kid has options because sometimes the system is not presenting options to them. For example, I helped a youth put some pieces together about college options.
FL: How do you find out about resources?
CASA: The CASA group, they are amazing. They keep you informed about what is available for your youth. There’s loads of resources. We just have to plug in our kid or the resource parent.
FL: So when you hang out with them and talk, you watch for missing pieces you possibly could help fill in? For instance, if they are looking for a pair of glasses, you might say, “Have you tried going online?” Or if they are trying to learn gymnastics, you might ask if there is a low-cost gymnastics program they can try out.
FL: A kid can get lost in the system; they can fall through the cracks. The people offering support services can’t be aware of everything that is going on in a kid’s life. You are a presence who watches over what is happening and notices what isn’t working out.
CASA: Yes. Whether it’s in the home, school, or with social worker, [the kid] is one of many. But with the CASA, the kid is it. My second youth asked me, “Am I your only CASA? Do you only have one CASA?” And I said, “Yes, you’re it.”
FL: How long is the commitment?
CASA: If I start a case with someone who is 10, I may be with that kid for eight years. It’s the real thing
FL: It sounds like a very special experience.
CASA: It is.
Find out more about CASA of Sonoma County, and how to apply to volunteer, at sonomacasa.org.