The kids I represent are my heroes! I am the voice for the child who has attended 8 schools in 4 years, because she is in foster care. The child, who now sits, surrounded by strangers, in the back of yet another class. Failing, because she is so far behind and afraid to ask for help.
I listen to her; I stand up for her at her individualized education planning meetings. I champion without compromise for what’s in her best interest just like I did for my own children.
This is why I continue to be a CASA volunteer, to make a difference in a life one child at a time.
Sue Braaten, CASA Volunteer
I have been a CASA for ten years, but during that time I have been primarily occupied with one family. Through this work, the importance of a CASA has been made very clear. This family, with four children, was involved with the child welfare system for over seven years. During these seven years, I was the only consistant person with knowledge of the case from the beginning to the end.
This became very important during the assessment of the mother’s progress in her ability to parent. The mother had mental health issues, not the more typical and easily documented drug and alcohol addiction issues. I was able to point out that that the mother’s behavior and attitudes had changed little in seven years. I did not have to be a psychiatrist; I just pointed out similar behaviors and statements from early to late in the case. The four children were all adopted into stable homes. I know that my continued presence as a CASA helped to bring about this positive outcome.
Mary Ann Curran, CASA Volunteer
Courage is defined as the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, without fear. That is the official definition. Yet I say courage truly is the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, and pain with or without fear. To have fear and still speak up or stand alone, to do what must be done, what is right despite fear is true courage.
I choose to stand up for our children. I do that by sharing my story; a story of abuse and rejection that made me afraid. I share my story and leave myself vulnerable to more pain from careless words or judgments. Yet, I sit here and do it despite my fear. The only way to make people understand the importance of a CASA is to make them see what happens to children without a CASA. Sharing my story is to light a path for others to follow; maybe one of you or one of the children in foster care, people who are silent not because they want to be, but because they are afraid not to speak.
As a child I was beaten black and blue. I had my legs broken. I have been locked in my room with no food or water, so hungry that I ate toilet paper and drank urine in hopes to rid my body of the pain of starvation and dehydration. I was sexually abused while my mom watched and verbally abused. I have had a gun pointed at me by my mom and feared death, but was powerless to run. I started life in a home that instilled in me a belief that the world hated me and that I was deserving of this treatment. I would have never asked for help because I felt everyone thought I deserved this and I was embarrassed by that spark inside me that wanted to live. I thought I was supposed want to die.
I never had anyone fighting for me, asking for what I needed. I was left at the mercy of over-worked social workers that I saw very sporadically. I was moved at least 30 times. I began to take scraps of paper or trash from each home when I would go to school. I did this because I was moved so many times I didn’t know if where I had been was real or a dream. I compare being moved from home to home to being in the middle of a merry go round and unable to stop it from spinning. It just keeps spinning and you just close your eyes and wait for it to stop. It never stopped for me.
I missed my siblings so badly I cried in bed at night. I had a toy that was filled with air. My sister had blown it up during one of our few visits and when the pain of missing her got so bad I would let some of the air out onto my face. No one made sure that we saw each other. No one assured I went to therapy – and I needed it. I had nightmares of being killed by many of the people who had abused me. I screamed and jumped at loud noises. I had PTSD; and no one cared. When I was 16, I walked out of my foster home and never went back. I have been on my own since then.
For most of my adult life I had felt ashamed of my past. I was broken or I wasn’t good enough were common thoughts in my mind as I made my way through the world.
One day I read about becoming a Court Appointed Special Advocate for children (CASA). I read how I could be a voice for kids in foster care who had been abused just like I had been. I immediately signed up-secretly afraid that my past would make me ineligible to participate. As I began the classes I started to see that I didn’t deserve the stuff that happened to me as a kid. I saw how a child could be potentially spared numerous moves and years of pain by having someone speak for them in court. I was elated and sad at the same time; sad because I never had a chance and happy because I could give kids this chance. I began to work really hard in therapy knowing that I had to get my life straight before I could be of use to these kiddos. I spent hours in therapy just talking and crying and grieving the loss of a childhood. As I understood the laws and the role of a CASA, I on one hand felt a tremendous anger that I never had a CASA and on the other felt a sense of purpose to be this voice for kids. I know that with a CASA I would have been in therapy that I wouldn’t have been moved from home to home as much and maybe I would have been adopted. I also believe if I had a CASA I would have learned that the abuse was not my fault and I deserved better, and I would have told someone about what had happened to me. I learned to put that anger into advocacy and preventing my CASA children from facing the same pain I did.
There are moments being a CASA that I say to myself if nothing else in my life is as good as this day being a CASA, I still would do my whole past over again to have made this difference. I said that when I had gotten a 10 year old child off of medication who had been on it for the last 5 years and watched her come to life. I said it when I was a part of getting a child placed in an adoptive home; a place she could call someone mom and dad, when she previously had been in the hands of the State for many years, sitting in a foster home that wouldn’t adopt her. I said it when I stood in court and stood up for my CASA child’s right to be safe and the judge listened. It is ironic in a way by learning how to be a voice for these kids and in being a voice for these kids, I have found my own voice.
I don’t need anyone to feel sorry for me nor do these kids. What we need is someone to say “I will be your voice and I will make sure you have a CASA”. I have decided that CASA is my lifelong passion and that I will do whatever I can do to make sure that every child has a voice in court and throughout some of the hardest days of their life. We need people to support CASA with donations or volunteering.
Stephanie Holt, CASA Volunteer