I tend to like books and movies for which I can predict the ending. The ones where the guy gets the girl, the orphan finds a home, and everyone lives happily ever after. In fact, if I hear in advance that a movie doesn’t have a happy ending, then I would rather just skip it. So it’s gratifying when something in real life has a happier ending than I would have ever predicted had I been reading the book.
When Samuel was returned to his family, I looked for my next challenge, and I found it with an organization and I came to know and respect through my journey with Hope and Faith. CASA (which stands for Court Appointed Special Advocate) is an organization that works within the court system to make independent and informed recommendations to help the judge decide what is best for the child. While every child in the system has an attorney to represent the child’s interests in court, that attorney represents their client—the child. And sometimes children don’t know what is best for them. Of course kids want to return to the parents, but that’s not always what is best. That’s where a CASA comes in to the picture.
So about a month after Samuel went home, I started the process to become a CASA. It was sort of similar to the process to become a foster parent—without all the home visits. There was paperwork, an interview, and then 30 hours of training plus three hours of courtroom observation. I have to say that I really enjoyed the CASA training. I learned so much, that I think I may have learned more than in my 40 hours of foster parent training. I wish they taught a little more about the court system and what to expect in foster parent training.
As a foster parent, I was simply told when we would have a court hearing, and I would show up. I never understood how all the pieces fit together, and I certainly never got the impression that these hearings were part of some planned process. But now I have such an understanding of the system that completely baffled me before. It was like someone finally placed the “you are here” sticker on the map at the mall. I learned a lot of the lingo and more about the roles of various players. The CASA experience was worth it for the training alone.
But the experience was so much more than that. While I have to keep all the details of my case completely confidential, I can share a little about my experience.
When I became a CASA, I thought that it was all about the kids—and it is. But in order for me to make sound recommendations to the court about what was best for the kids, I had to spend a lot of time with their family too. I visited the various family members in their homes, and tried to get to know them, know their hearts, and know what they were capable of. Was there drama? Of course there was drama. I think that is expected for any case in the system. So I was never bored, and some months required more of my time than others. I learned a lot about coping with a massive amount of phone calls and sifting through what was important, and what really wasn’t. I tried to be a good listener.
Every three months, we would have a status hearing (sometimes more often if something big was happening), and I would be responsible for writing a report for the judge to read with recommendations for how I thought the case should go. It was a little intimidating at first, but the cool thing about CASA is that you have a supervisor who is a staff member who can help you with anything you need. My supervisor was wonderful at working around my schedule, coaching me through court reports, tough phone calls, and everything else that came up along the way.
Caseworkers change, judges change, attorneys change…all those people are paid to do their jobs full-time with overwhelming caseloads, and in a world as tough as this, turnover rates are understandably high. CASA volunteers focus on their one case and commit to see their case all the way through. That’s one of the things that makes them (us) such an important part of the process. By the time we were 14 months in and participating in court-ordered mediation, I could predict the responses and motivating factors of the various family members. But the other parties, who had changed over the course of the case, and didn’t have as much time invested with the family could not. I became one of the experts because I was one of few consistent people as time went by.
When I was first assigned to this case in September 2010, I never would have predicted the way things would work out. I thought I knew what would happen; but for once, I am happy to say I was wrong. Things didn’t turn out like I thought they would. They turned out better. And during the visits that I have made over the last two months since all was worked out in mediation, it has been abundantly clear that this is the right thing for the kids in my case.
Part of being a CASA means a commitment that once the case is closed, you sever all ties with the kids and their family. So while I won’t know for certain, I have faith that things are going to work out for this family. And today I got to hear those two little words that are “system lingo” for they lived happily ever after: case closed.