I have never been much for celebrating a New Year. I could never muster delight in flipping the calendar from one month of winter to the next. And New Year’s resolutions seem doomed to fail—either they’re too much of a change to be sustainable, or they’re laughably small.  But this year, I will be the first to admit that I am happy to see 2020 receding into the rearview mirror. It has been a year of tough times, and I am looking forward to taking a deep breath and a fresh start.

As I have shared in previous posts, I’m a word nerd. So in keeping with this not-too-fond farewell of 2020, I thought about that calendar and the etymology of the word January.  It comes from the Roman god Janus, who is a two-faced figure looking forward and back.  I think in typical years, I could find the New Year hubbub a little easier to stomach if I remembered that a vital part of looking forward is looking back.  And so, in an effort to take a clear view of 2020, I crunched some numbers so we can seriously consider how CASA of Yellowstone County survived this particular storm.  As of the date of this writing, December 29, 2020, here are our numbers for calendar year 2020:

  • 459 foster children were served by volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocates.
  • 236 Advocates were active during at least part of 2020.
  • 48 new Advocates received top notch pre-service training and were sworn in as CASAs.

Now, let’s just think about that for a moment.  Four hundred fifty-nine children and youth had a voice in the foster care system, thanks to our dedicated CASAs.  Two hundred thirty-six advocates gave of their time, energy, and care in the middle of a pandemic in order to make sure these kids knew they had someone going to bat for them in the court system. And 48 new advocates decided that, pandemic or no pandemic, the needs of those kids outweighed their own comfort.

And that’s not all!  I was astounded time after time this year to see the creativity and determination displayed by those around me in our CASA work.  First, when the pandemic hit, our pre-service training and swearing-in ceremonies moved to a virtual setting.  For those of us who never took an online class in our academic days, it was certainly a feat to behold!  The staff and the advocates learned how to work together without the in-person office setting we’ve become used to, and the advocates adapted to a myriad of virtual courtroom formats.

But where advocates’ creativity was really put to the test was how to maintain relationships with their CASA kids during a pandemic.  I know I haven’t seen or heard it all, but off the top of my head, there were front porch drop-offs of goodie bags and activity baskets, deliveries of flowers upon a youth’s birthday, socially distanced dropping off and picking up of school packets, and lots of outdoor visits with masks and distancing.  Advocates with very young CASA children learned the hard way that a video call might not serve the kids, so once again, the creative juices started flowing!  One CASA recorded herself reading a book and sent the video to the placement so the kids would remember her and they would be read to regularly.

And then there are those youth whose CASAs didn’t have to change their approaches, because the youth have been placed out of state during the entirety of their relationship with the CASA.  These CASAs know how to advocate from a distance!  Phone calls, video calls, and even good old snail mail are still tools of the CASA trade and were all the more important during a pandemic that was custom built to rip through aggregate living situations.

I know I have barely scratched the surface of how 2020 has changed our advocacy. So if you know a CASA, either in Yellowstone County or elsewhere, please thank them. And ask how they pivotted to continue to serve their kids, and how they’ll continue to adapt in 2021 and beyond.

And as for 2021, well…we will keep on adapting! That is something that we have to do in an ever changing system that needs Court Appointed Special Advocates more with every day that goes by and every child who is removed from a home where they have been abused or neglected.  If you have ever considered advocating for a child in the foster system, what’s stopping you?  We already know we can do this during a pandemic, so we’d love to have you join our ranks!  Please visit www.yellowstonecasa.org or email our development director at emily@yellowstonecasa.org to find out more about joining us in advocating for youth in our community.

And with that, I hope you will all join me in a hearty, “So long, 2020!  Here goes, 2021!”