uktobk asked: Thank you so much for sharing your experience volunteering with CASA. I'm not able to make the time commitment right now, but I am really hoping to in the next few years and reading about your experience solidified this even more for me. I have so much respect and admiration for you and the other volunteers!
You’re welcome! It’s something I’ve been wanting to talk more about, and something I wish I could share more details about, but alas.
I won’t say it hasn’t had its challenges and hasn’t been emotionally taxing at times, but the rewards have far outweighed said challenges. And while being a volunteer child advocate isn’t for everyone, being involved with the process and the organization is something that anyone can do.
Good luck in your future volunteering endeavors!
For two years, I was a volunteer court appointed special advocate. Which means, when a family was involved in a case with the Department of Family and Protective Services, the judge could order my organization to assign an advocate to speak for the kiddos.
In these cases, there are numerous potential players involved:
- The courts: the judge and DA
- Department of Family and Protective Services and their lawyers
- The parents: sometimes numerous biological and step-parents and their lawyers
- The kids: again, sometimes numerous and with their own lawyers
- Foster parents and/or adoptive agencies
Basically, there are a lot of moving pieces, a ton of information, and all of the players involved are usually very overwhelmed and over-loaded. Which is where special advocates come into play. While the DFPS agents typically have 35-50 cases each, we advocates have just one case to watch over. And while the everyone and their lawyer - including the kids’ lawyers - are there to argue their case based on what they want/believe to be true, we’re there to simply make sure the kids and their needs aren’t getting overlooked.
For example, while everyone is freaking out over what drugs may or may not have appeared in mom’s last drug test, it can easily be forgotten that the toddler has a nasty case of eczema that needs a special ointment. Or, hey, when the kids were hastily removed from their unsafe home, their clothes and toys were left behind, so while they’re freaking out and unsure of what is going on in the world around them, let’s at least get them some toys and clothes to help comfort them. And while the DFPS agents and lawyers can all come and go during the lifespan of a case, we’re there from start to finish.
The two years I spent on my case (which is an abnormally long time for a case) were educational, insightful, heart-warming, heart-breaking, frustrating, hopeful, and overall emotional. To see what these kids, their families, and even the courts and lawyers go through is eye-opening. And yes, if you ever have a free day and want to get a better grasp of the world around you, I highly recommend sitting in a Family Court courtroom for a day.
Family Court - now that’s a roller-coaster ride of emotions for you. It’s important to keep in mind that - ultimately - everyone is there for the purpose of deciding the fates of innocent children. And the families and socioeconomic backgrounds of these children are incredibly varied. One thing I learned quickly - it takes a hell of a lot more than love to raise a child, but just because you have money doesn’t mean you’re the best parent.
Some of the more memorable moments from my time in court:
- The mom in her prison orange jumpsuit, in shackles and handcuffs, sobbing as she signed over her parental rights.
- The day the judge commented to another mother how proud she was of how much she’s cleaned her act up, and the tears of pride on that mom’s face
- Anytime a kid would come to court to tell their story first-hand
- The day the judge threw the new husband of a case mom out of court because he couldn’t keep his hands off mom’s curvy booty
- The dad that wore a t-shirt that said, “fuck dem bitches” to court (in his defense he said it really was, unfortunately, the cleanest shirt he currently owned)
- The judge who looked at his watch and said, “let’s get this moving, I’ve got a 2pm tee time”
- The lawyer that showed up in a stained jacket with a fraying hem
- High-fives and “good job! keep it up!”s shared over repeated passed drug tests
But the best moments? Those were the ones when the family was reunited and it was truly for the best. When the parents had completed their required services and gotten their acts together and the kids were excited to be back with the parents. When everyone involved - the judge, the lawyers, the parents and advocates and family and friends who gave their time and emotion to the case - are smiling and happy and have hearts full of warm fuzzies.
Those were the days when it was all worth it.
And in those moments, you couldn’t care less if the parents were wearing, say, Spongebob Squarepants pajama pants, because all that mattered - all that ultimately matters - was that they took the time and effort and energy to got to rehab or kick out their loser spouse or take parenting classes so they could be reunited with their children.
Because there are parents out there that wouldn’t do whatever is necessary to be reunited with their children. Sometimes, they don’t even care enough to show up to say they’re sorry for putting their child in harm’s way.