Each and every CASA has their own unique volunteer experience. Explore the stories below to discover the rewarding, funny, challenging, and unpredictable sides of being a CASA volunteer. Through the work of ordinary people with extraordinary hearts, these children’s voices are heard.
By CASA Meridith
“Natalie” is a bubbly, silly 2-year-old who wears her dark hair in pigtails and looks just like Boo from the Monsters Inc. movies. I was lucky enough to become her CASA when she was 8 months old. She came into foster care because her biological mother used drugs while she was pregnant, and her biological father was incarcerated. She was placed in a loving foster home shortly after birth and was thriving, along with another child who had been placed in the same home. Though doing well, Natalie was receiving multiple therapies and interventions to address developmental delays due to her in-utero drug exposure.
Here is a brief glimpse into what a month as Natalie’s CASA looks like.
Earlier this month, I visited Natalie in her foster home. We pretended to make breakfast together in her play kitchen. Her favorite book is based on the Frozen movies, so she sat on my lap while I read it to her and worked together on naming the various shapes in the book. The other child placed in the home, also a toddler, enjoys playing with a large wooden puzzle. The three of us played with it together, and I had a chance to observe the interaction between the two children. We finished the visit with a dance party to her favorite music: classic rock and roll.
Later in the month, Natalie had an out-of-home occupational therapy appointment, and I met her and her caregivers at the therapy site. It was a group session set up with activity stations and the kids rotated through various tasks. I was able to speak to the occupational therapist working with Natalie and confirm her diagnoses and treatment goals. It was very important for me to be able to observe how Natalie responded to adults and other children, as well as her progress toward her therapy goals.
At the end of the month, I called the social worker and shared my interactions with Natalie and her caregivers. I also called my advocacy supervisor and kept her up to date on Natalie’s progress. Most important as we look ahead for Natalie, the permanent plan is adoption, and we are hoping to celebrate that soon!
Rosie is a former foster youth whose life was transformed by her CASA, Dawna. Her childhood was marred by drug addiction, violence, and neglect, tearing her family apart and leaving Rosie with no one to depend on. Until Dawna came into her life. As Rosie put it, “Dawna was someone that, when she said something, she did it. If she said that she would be there, she was going to be there. And that became huge for me, because no one had been that in my life. That, I think, was the best gift.” Despite all the odds, Rosie is now pursuing her college degree and working at a residential, educational facility helping other foster youth.
Suamhirs is a former foster youth and Real Word panel member who, with the help of his CASA, Marco Mares, overcame enormous odds and terrible circumstances. In January 2016, Suamhirs was appointed by President Barack Obama to the U.S. Commission on Human Trafficking, an extraordinary honor. He is the youngest member of this commission at age 26, and the only former foster youth. Of achieving this tremendous honor, Suamhirs said, “Voices for Children gave me a voice. And my CASA, Marco, taught me to be strong, not to let my past define me. He believed in me and is still with me—the longest stable, positive relationship I have had in my life. This man. A total stranger. A regular person with a regular job… and an extraordinary heart. With extraordinary skills to set someone free. That is my CASA.”
More than 9,000 children spend time in San Diego and Riverside County foster care systems each year. They are innocent victims who have been taken away from their homes through no fault of their own, but due to parental maltreatment. Once removed, the children are under the Court’s jurisdiction until a judge determines the home is safe for return. If reunification cannot occur, the child continues to live in foster care until an adoption or guardianship can be arranged. Sadly, many children are never adopted and spend their childhoods in foster care.
Voices for Children’s 1,600 CASA volunteers come from every ethnicity, background, income level, age, and profession. They pass several levels of screenings and interviews, and pass our rigorous training program of 35+ hours. Being a CASA is an extraordinary responsibility, not something suited to everyone. And those who do qualify are the best; one child described them as “big brothers with super powers.”
Our volunteers perform miracles, often changing lives and bringing joy to their case children, yet also face fear and mistrust from children who have been betrayed by adults. The stakes are very high for these children, yet studies show that CASA volunteers can make a significant difference in the lives of their children.