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 Margie
When I first became a CASA, I was matched with a sibling group of three girls, ages 9, 12, and 15. On reflection, my first case was filled with many fun times together, and a few challenges along the way.
The first five months were an easy honeymoon period. It was summer, so we had lots of time to visit new places and get to know each other. I expected the fall months to be calm with the three siblings now settled into new schools and back into a routine. And, it did start off that way.
“Noeme,” the fourth grader, was thrilled to have the same classroom teacher as her neighborhood friends, and her teacher said that she was a very hard worker despite being three years behind in reading and math. “Angelica,” the seventh grader, had a learning disability, but there was an Individualized Education Program (IEP) in place to help her succeed. And “Maria,” a junior in high school, was very happy at her alternative school. She was behind in credits, but the school offered some unique ways to allow her to recover credits and graduate on schedule.
Unfortunately, the girls’ mother was in and out of jail, leaving the sisters stressed and anxious on a regular basis.
Maria struggled with it the most, sometimes responding by missing school and smoking and drinking with friends. When I learned about Maria’s behavior, her social worker and I arranged for her to go to a teen rehabilitation center.
On top of that, Angelica really wanted to be in band, but her IEP required her to take a study skills class, which gave her no time for an elective. Although disappointed, she adjusted well and decided to play on the soccer team after school instead.
Maria, Angelica, and Noeme have gone on to achieve so much, despite times where they felt afraid or confused. Maria went on to graduate from high school and enrolled in community college. By holding her education rights, I was able to stay in contact with teachers and counselors at her continuation high school to ensure she stayed on track. Angelica finished middle school with nearly straight A’s. She began to believe in herself and saw that she was capable of success. Noeme, the youngest, is doing well in school and enjoys her after-school activities.
During my time as their CASA, I regularly attended IEP meetings, tracked their progress in school, and worked closely with their teachers, counselors, and social worker to ensure their needs were being met.
After two years, the sisters were in a stable home with family members and their case closed in guardianship. What an experience it was to spend time with these girls, to get to know them, and to just let them have fun and be kids.
Being a CASA can be a roller-coaster ride, but when you remember the uncertainty these kids face, it is rewarding to be a stable person for them through it all.
The Story of Kay & Pinky
By CASA Kay
I have the privilege of advocating for an 8-year-old girl with several serious medical issues. I’ll call her “Pinky,” since that is her favorite color. Pinky currently lives in a foster home with foster parents who have expressed interest in adopting her. As her CASA, I have the joy of spending time with her and communicating with everyone involved in her life to make sure her needs are being met.
Being a child’s CASA looks different for every case. Here is a sneak peek into a month of my time as Pinky’s CASA.
My month usually begins with checking my calendar to see if Pinky has any major upcoming medical appointments. I’ll check with foster mom to see if there’s a particularly important appointment for me to attend and make sure it is on my calendar, along with our two regular visits for the month.
Last month, I touched base with the social worker to track progress on her adoption. I also attended a meeting with a representative from a philanthropic organization that may be able to donate a specialized van to assist Pinky’s foster family with transportation to her medical appointments and to give her a life outside the walls of her home.
Since she’s confined to her bed for the summer, I sent Pinky fun little greeting cards and visited her three times this month — one more than usual. I brought some flowers from my garden and checked my local used bookstore for a book she might like. We read, sang, made some paper crafts, and just talked about one of our favorite subjects: dogs! I visited with foster mom and dad a bit on each of these visits to see how things are going for them, the adoption, and any needs Pinky might have.
Throughout the month, I made notes from my visits with doctors, teachers, and the social worker in a planner, recorded my volunteer hours, and emailed my advocacy supervisor to keep her in the loop of what is happening with my case.
I look forward to next month with joy as my sweet little girl moves closer to adoption, and I think about some fun outings we can do once she’s more mobile (as well as some surprises if we still need to have more visits at her bedside). Can’t wait until we can explore together again!
The Story of Meridith & Boo
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.