Court Volunteers Help Rescue Children in Abusive Situations
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Women make up 84 percent of CASAs and come from all walks of life. "It's probably the nature of the work," says Sonya Liles, a spokeswoman for CASA headquarters in Seattle. "Woman are more apt to think they would be good at working with abused or neglected children."Skip to next paragraph
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Michael Piraino, head of National CASA, says minorities and men "are underrepresented," and there are efforts to recruit for a greater diversity. While many CASA volunteers are retired, 52 percent have full-time jobs and many are law students.
"Judges know they would be at a loss without CASAs," says Joseph O'Reilly, chief probation officer of the Juvenile Court in Boston. "And when attorneys see how dysfunctional a family can be, they ask for a CASA."
Successful CASAs are usually good with details, understand how to remain objective while their heartstrings are tugged, and can plow through files for relevant material.
Often in such tangled cases, the CASA knows all the details and is the facilitator for exchanges of information between five to seven professionals involved in the case. In some cases, social workers and attorneys are initially skeptical of the CASA. But in most cases, everyone works side by side.
"You have to measure your success by your effort, not necessarily the outcome," says Thomas, who has had two cases. "Did you do everything you could think of to do, and did you do it as thoroughly as you could?" he says. "And did you do it with passion?"
Ms. De Bra, a recent Boston University law school graduate, was assigned a case while in the middle of training. "When I met the mom in court," she says, "she told me her neighborhood wasn't good, and not to come alone. So I went with her court-appointed attorney."
De Bra found herself in a case where attorneys were not talking to one another. "But everybody is talking through me because all CASAs have a court order to get information," she says.
Her case involves a mother struggling with her undisciplined children while she adheres to a Department of Social Services plan for improvement. "This is not an abuse case, but one with serious questions about someone's ability to be a parent," says De Bra.
In Thomas's first case, decided a few years ago when the children were placed in foster care, he was amazed at their resilience. "They had led a horrible, neglected life," he says, "but there was such strength and goodness in them that made them survive and prosper as soon as they got in a stable environment."
For almost all of the cases that end up in court, drugs and/or alcohol abuse are directly or indirectly involved. Missing too is extended family to offer support.
"I think so much of this goes back to the fact that this country is not pro-child," says Askew. "There are people who are genuinely great parents with their own kids, but very few are concerned about other people's kids. If we were a different kind of society, everybody would worry about all kids, and everybody would feel more supported."
Who Am I?
There was once a tree full of apples
which was my family. Then one day I fell off.
Some grownups came and put me in a pear tree
Then I fell off.
A little boy came and put me in a tree with apples,
oranges, pears, and peaches.
Then I fell off.
Then I sat there forever wondering,
who will pick me up?
Where will I go?
Will I go where I belong?
Or will I waste my whole life living with fruits
who I don't belong with
because they can't encourage me
to accomplish my dreams,
or can't tell me who I am
because they don't know who I am.
It's up to you.
Who am I?
- Danielle Marie Bush, 11 year old in foster care
* 'When I talk to people about what I do, some tell me it sounds so depressing; how can you stand to get so close to that stuff? But to me it's utterly absorbing. If this is the life these kids lead, surely I can stand to get that close to help. It energizes me. Maybe I can help make it go faster. I know I have made a difference.'
- Mary Askew
* 'I go out and play soccer with the boy because so many of these kids don't have a man in their life. I do it on my own and hope he'll open up to me. I'm an adult showing up in his life, and I think for a long time adults haven't shown up in their lives.'
- Art Thomas
* 'When you like the people you are dealing with, it's hard not to be rooting for them, but I'm just trying to make the situation work, help her to get clothes, food, and her kids registered in the right school.'
- Shannon De Bra
* For more information: National CASA Association,100 W. Harrison, North Tower, Suite 500, Seattle, WA, 98119. Telephone: 800-628-3233, or e-mail: email@example.com