In June, I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the National CASA Conference, in Seattle, WA. It was invigorating to be around so many people from across the nation that all had the same mission; being the Voice of Children. Two of the sessions I attended were of note and I wanted to share what I heard and wish all advocates, and those that support advocacy could have heard.

The first session was From the Bench; a panel of judges from across the nation sharing their insights about CASA. First and foremost, the judges made it clear that advocates are important! Don’t ever forget why you are there; you are the child’s voice. They read your reports. They want to hear the good things and the “little” things about the family and child. What does the child like to do, what is their favorite color or sport, etc. Help them (the judges) see the “human side” of the family and case. They wanted you to think of your report as a letter to the judge. They appreciate having the most recent and updated information so they can make the best decision for the case. They love seeing photos of the kids; it helps keep the case focused on the child (please talk to your program coordinator if you have questions about the photo policy). They made a point to remind advocates not to take it personally if they do not order what you recommend. They must follow the law and sometimes, the law does not match up with the recommendations of the CASA. But keep advocating for the child’s best interests! “If you wouldn’t remove a child for particular circumstances, then those same circumstances should not be a barrier for reunification.” They concluded their session with a reminder that poverty is not neglect. They referenced an article (It’s Time to Stop Confusing Poverty with Neglect) by Jerry Milner reiterating this fact.

The second session I want to highlight was Making and Maintaining Connections; this was a panel of youth who had previously been in the foster care system and had CASAs appointed to their case. Again, they made it very clear that advocates are invaluable. I heard lots of things from these brave youth. Here are just a few I want advocates to hear from former CASA youth:

  • You sit in the trenches with us
  • You help me live an intentional life
  • You give us roots to grow
  • Your presence speaks volumes
  • you see us at our worst and still believe in us
  • Yes, a big part of your role is to connect us to different resources, but don’t ever forget that you, as a CASA, are a resource
  • Involve us in our case. We want to be included in things like case planning and solution planning
  • Keep checking in on us. We may not always answer you back or you may think we are ignoring you, but keep checking in. Sometimes we may be afraid to ask or don’t want to burden you, so you may have to come to us
  • Be open with us, share information about yourself, and connect with us on a personal level
  • Each of our stories is powerful, and each of our stories is unique! Every lived experience is different
  • Speak worth to us; say it early and say it often
  • Focus on who we are not what we have gone through
  • Be authentic
  • Advocate for sibling contact if we want it. If we don’t, please respect that and don’t force it
  • Don’t judge us or our family. Words Matter! We hear what you say about our families
  • #NotaStatistic!

The loudest message I heard at the conference and especially from the keynote speakers was “Thank You”. Thank you, advocates, for everything you are doing for these kids. As Steve Pemberton (author of A Chance in the World and The Lighthouse Effect) so eloquently stated, “you are ordinary people having an extraordinary impact on the world. You are the lighthouses for these children. Human Lighthouses give us hope and direct us back to the goodness in each other and in our own hearts. You are quietly heroic. You may not always know or see the impact you are making in a life in your lifetime. But know that you are making a difference.”

 

 

Carrie Porter is a Program Coordinator and Intake Specialist for CASA of Yellowstone County