In May 2009, I became a CASA advocate. I was assigned to a family with two children in foster care. For nearly five and a half years, I’ve visited my kids in different environments—in each of their foster care homes, at daycare, at school, and in supervised visits with their birth mother. I’ve witnessed their milestones, begun to understand the long-term impact of the physical abuse they both received before they were removed from their original home, and tried to learn how exactly I can help. I’ve been lucky enough to witness the incredible resilience of children. These little kids—they’ve faced more challenges in their short lives than most young adults I know. And the hardest thing is, they don’t realize their lives have been any different than anyone else’s.
As a CASA volunteer, my primary role is to observe. It is to offer a full report to the juvenile court judge every few months about where my kids are, how they are, and how we can help. I have the ability to make requests, to report unfortunate facts, to provide the entire picture. By seeing my kids once every few weeks, I get a pretty good idea of where they’re at—and what they need. They’re too young to tell anyone that they need winter clothes or immunizations at the doctor’s office; that they’re having trouble seeing the board at school or that they’re being emotionally neglected at home. They’re too young to report the challenges in their days, their fears, their dreams.
That’s my job. I’m too young to become a foster parent and I don’t have the resources to open a children’s shelter—but right now, today, this is what I can do. I can do my best to understand the things that can’t be said. I can see these things, and I can shed light on them. I can get the information to the people that need it. You see, the juvenile court judge is the person solely responsible for the changes in these kids’ lives. This judge—it’s her job to order additional medical testing or therapy services for any children that are currently wards of the state. But in my county, there are only two juvenile judges—and there are approximately 500 children they preside over.
Even when the judge wants to make every call in the world to fix everything—she can’t. It’s just not possible. So that’s where I come in. I visit my kids as often as possible, so I can tell the judge as much about their lives as I can. I visit my kids, because it’s quite possible that I am the only person in their lives that has the time and energy to report on them constantly. I visit my kids because quickly, they became just that—MY kids. I spend time with these kids because there’s too much they can’t say. There’s too much they can’t tell anyone, there’s too much nobody looks closely enough to see. That’s my job. That’s how I know I’m making a difference. I’m learning how to hear the things that cannot be said. And being a CASA volunteer, fulfilling this role, well, it’s something I can’t imagine my life without.
After five and a half years, we’ve arrived at the best possible outcome for my kids, and we’ve been standing here long enough to know that it’s a stable solution. I look upon this change with mixed feelings, but mostly with gratitude. These kids, this family, they’ve changed my life. They’ve made me believe that with the right support, resources, time, and intentions, people can change. They’ve taught me that there is always, always, always a chance to start over again.
Most importantly, they’ve taught me the power of words, in a context unlike anything else.
I believe in you.
I’m here for you.
You can trust me.
How can I help?
Simple phrases. Words we take for granted are things that can change someone, inside and out. They are things that aren’t said, or worse, aren’t meant. Things that can’t be believed. Words have the power to fill us up, to raise us up, to point us in the right direction—or to leave us bare and empty, feeling small and alone. The experience of working with these children: the hope I’ve been able to offer and the knowledge I’ve gained, has been incredible. It’s been an honor and a privilege to care about them and support them, to advocate for them, to hold their hands.
To CASA Lake County & the National CASA Association, thank you from the very bottom of my heart.
Story by Amanda Kasper from the National CASA Blog