Voices from the Marin CASA Community
“When I first met my CASA – Richard – I was a lost and frustrated 17-year-old foster kid with barely a 1.0 GPA and little guidance. Richard didn’t treat me like that though, and did something no one had ever done before. He talked to me like I was an adult, told me I had potential and that my past did not have to be a liability, but could actually be an asset. He took the time to mentor me, and helped me to break down every goal I had into a check list that we would review every time we met. This process resulted in a high school diploma, college graduation, and an assignment in the Peace Corps. I’m now a 29-year-old graduate student and I still meet with Richard every time I pass through the Bay Area and review my hopes and aspirations and what I need to do to achieve them.
CASA not only provided me with an advocate and mentor, but with a dear friend, one I care deeply about and whose guidance and kindness has helped me to become the man I am today.”
A Former Youth in Foster Care
The Court's Perspective
A case comes in. The allegations are that Children Family Services has been called to pick up a child whose parent has been arrested for a DUI with two other adults, and the child in the car. Syringes were also in the car, the child was dirty, hungry. It was 1:20 in the morning. The social worker goes to the home trying to find the other parent. The house is strewn with garbage, more syringes and an eviction notice taped to the front door. The social worker places the child on an emergency basis. Makes appointments to make sure the child gets food, shelter, clothing and medical attention. They do a great job. But guess what. This is not the only child or family assigned to that social worker. There is only so much the social worker can do. There is only so much time to get to know that child and to figure out what that child needs. This is where CASA steps in.
The CASA worker steps in to fill several roles from my perspective:
First, they compile necessary information. I get the essentials from the social worker. Sort of like an outline pencil drawing. The CASA worker spends hours with this child. They get to know the child, can tell me what the child is like, what the needs are, what the issues are. They can tell me about specific outings, needs/likes/dislikes/fears/hopes. They can tell me how the siblings get along, what happens in family dynamics they have witnessed first-hand. I have to make specific and essential decisions about this child’s life. Can you imagine the difference between making that decision with and without that kind of information?
Second, the information is completely neutral. The parents and social worker are, by nature of the process, sometimes at odds with each other. The social workers are there to protect children from the parents. The parents are usually there to get their children back. They don’t always like the social workers. There is an inherent conflict. Not so with the CASA worker. I don’t have to make a finding that CASA did this or didn’t do that. It is pure and simple information, generally couched in the most diplomatic terms. That is a real treat for a bench officer.
Third, and finally, the CASA are important to court proceedings because they so often provide the practical stuff that allows for the case to progress. We need to get this child back into school? The CASA is assigned the educational rights, they attend the meetings, meet with teachers, supervise the progress. When I ask how that aspect of the case is going—they can tell me. First hand. It gets done. Without the CASA? It doesn’t get done.
So what does CASA mean to the Court? Thorough, firsthand, unbiased information and implementation. Plain and simple.”
Judge Beverly Wood,
Marin Superior Court
Ellen*, 14 years old, was removed from her parents’ home 3 years ago, due to abuse and neglect. Since her removal she has been in 10 foster homes. She has had 5 social workers, lived in 6 counties and attended 8 different schools. Throughout this time, she has had 1 CASA. Ellen struggles with low self-esteem and trust issues. Her CASA has been the 1 adult relationship that has been unconditional. No matter what Ellen does or where she goes, her CASA has been there for her – visiting with her regularly, working with her team of professionals, including educators, to make certain that her needs are being met. Ellen’s CASA is able to be a powerful advocate for her because she knows her and holds her history, in a way that no file can convey.
It has been said that foster children are “our children”.
As a community we must assure that these children are being provided with the love and care that every child deserves, and requires, to thrive.
Our CASA Volunteers are doing just that.
*name changed to protect minor