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I volunteer in the Dependency and Neglect program at CASA, an acronym that stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates, in Colorado Springs.
I was drawn to CASA because I was in the family court system in another country as a young adolescent and I did not have the advantage of a court appointed advocate working on my behalf.
I was an emancipated youth at age 15 in New Zealand. Services were available to me, as they are to children in Colorado Springs, but applying for them and negotiating the legal system was overwhelming. I was just shuffled from one agency to another with no one really wanting to take any responsibility. I was basically just fending for myself. When I first started checking out CASA of the Pikes Peak Region, I saw people truly dedicated to determining the best interests of children in need. I also saw that these advocates had a direct avenue to communicate those needs to the professionals working on the case and to the courts.
When I heard CASA would give me the opportunity to advocate for the best interest of children in much harder situations than I had been in, it didn't take a lot of convincing for me to sign up. I also felt it was one of the most organized and constructive ways for me to give back or pay it forward because this community has been good to me. I was prepared to put my hand up and say, "I'll help."
I'm now coming up on my second year with CASA and in that time I have completed one case and have been working on my second for about 5 months now.
The first case I was assigned was with a young toddler who had been placed in foster care. I worked closely with his parents to offer them any support I could to help them stay compliant with courts orders in terms of taking parenting classes, gaining employment and providing reasonable housing for their son.
As expected, there were moments working on this case that were tough, like hearing the mother say now that her son was walking, "he'll be too much trouble to look after." And then there was seeing the boy's dad get put back in jail.
Unfortunately, it became apparent that the parents were not going to be able to provide a safe and nurturing environment. In that case I recommended to the Court, and the professionals on the case agreed with me, that the child should be released for adoption. And that had a very positive outcome. The child was adopted by his foster parents and is thriving in a very warm and loving environment. When my first case ended, I had no hesitation accepting my second case. The changes that had happened in the life of that young child were so profound and meaningful, I really felt drawn to continuing the work.
Although I was motivated and enthusiastic when I started, I really didn't understand how much of a difference CASA and the volunteers can make on some pretty desperate situations and the lives of the children embroiled in them. Not until that first case, anyway. When you're an advocate, you work on one case at a time and get the opportunity to really find out what's going on and what's really needed to ensure the children are looked after.
Very soon after starting my second case, I identified serious issues that weren't being addressed by any of the number of people involved. Positive, significant and real changes are already being made in the life of this family.