Volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocates in Yellowstone County are a varied lot. Our ranks include active retirees and young professionals. Some work within the home and others part or full time in institutions or businesses. What we do hold in common: We are busy people! Busy people do not need one more meeting a month. If we are going to take the time, it needs to be worth the effort. The Small Groups offered by CASA of Yellowstone County are meetings that are worthy of consideration. To attend a meeting can be seen as an investment in the organization, your peers, and yourself. Ultimately, as with all things CASA, it all comes back to being “for the child.”

These Small Group meetings are held in various locales and at different times of day. The centerpiece of these meetings is an educational topic relevant to child advocacy work. Articles, videos and/or audio files are sent out each month. This continuing education source takes approximately 30 minutes a month and is available to all advocates. The Small Group setting gives an advocate time to process the information with others. We look at the accompanying questions that help us apply this knowledge to our cases and our understanding of our work. These topics help us understand the environments and issues our children are experiencing.

Along with this educational purpose, the Small Group is a vehicle for building each other up in our work. Our cases are all involving children that are in the foster care system, but there can be a wide variety of experiences and people involved. This variety leads to a treasure trove of collective wisdom as we spend the second part of our time together sharing about our cases. It is not uncommon to hear about a community resource that may have been unknown to the advocate prior to the meeting. Sometimes we just get stuck with an aspect of our case work and this time allows us to share that and get ideas for our next steps.

Sharing and CASA work do not generally go hand in hand. We need to assure our children that we are trustworthy of the information that we hear. We rightly value confidentiality and professionalism. That said, the situations that we encounter and questions they may lead to may be tough to work through by ourselves. Safe places to talk it through can be found in our Program Staff, Peer Coordinators, and, you guessed it, Small Groups. There is healthy value in being heard and understood. When we are able to speak things out loud, we are less likely to ruminate and worry.

Steven Covey, in his book, the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, identified the need for “sharpening the saw” by recognizing that we need regular practices in our life which support our more public work. The work we do in child advocacy takes long term, committed effort. Our children deserve advocates at their best: informed, supported, and healthy. The CASA Small Group provides a monthly injection of education, camaraderie, and self care. Drawing from this well in our CASA community is an investment of time well spent.

Jennifer Mack was sworn in as a Court Appointed Special Advocate in 2014 and is currently a volunteer Peer Coordinator.