From Cuddler to CASA

I have lost count of the number of times someone has told me that they really want to be involvd in foster care, and they really care about foster youth,  but they are not in a season of life where they can be foster parents. They wonder how they can help.

How can you make a difference in the life of a foster youth without being a foster parent?

There are a number of ways to answer that question, and my guest in Episode 17 of A Fostered Life Podcast talks about two of them. Laura was a volunteer cuddler in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for years before being introduced to a desperate need in the foster care system after caring for one particular baby for several months. She went through the training and eventually became a CASA – a Court Appointed Special Advocate.

Over the six-plus years Laura has spent as a CASA, she has served over twenty-three children, and in today’s episode, she’s going to share what that experience has been like and what you might expect if you are considering becoming a CASA.

I am so grateful for the work that Laura and others have done and I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did!

The Foster Parent’s Glossary: CASA or GAL

casa_logoI speak Spanish, and now that my daughter is enrolled in a Spanish-immersion pre-school, I get to practice often. So when I hear someone say, “Does your kid have a CASA?” I think to myself, “Um, yes! We have a HOUSE!”

Um, different CASA.

If you’re involved in foster care, a CASA is a “Court-Appointed Special Advocate,” and if you have a foster child, you want them to have a CASA. Or, in some states, a GAL (Guardian Ad Litem.)

What is a CASA or GAL? What does (s)he do?

CASA/GAL volunteers are appointed by judges to watch over and advocate for abused and neglected children, to make sure they don’t get lost in the overburdened legal and social service system or languish in inappropriate group or foster homes. Volunteers stay with each case until it is closed and the child is placed in a safe, permanent home. For many abused children, their CASA/GAL volunteer will be the one constant adult presence in their lives. (www.casaforchildren.org)

That’s the official description.

But from experience, I can tell you that a great CASA/GAL comes to their kids’ birthday parties and soccer games. (S)he comes to your house to get to know the kids (and make sure they get to know her). (S)he shows up to court every time there’s a hearing (and there are a lot of hearings) even if you, the foster parent, can’t make it. (S)he goes to the last-known address of the birth parents to try to connect with them, to get to know them as well. (S)he prepares reports (including photos) and makes recommendations. (S)he is invested in the lives of her/his cases.

In an ideal world, every foster child would automatically have a CASA/GAL. (Well, in an ideal world, there would be no foster children, but stay with me here.) In an ideal world, every foster child would have a CASA/GAL, but the thing is, CASAs and GALs are volunteers, and there are simply not enough CASAs or GALs to ensure that every foster child will have one. (When our children had been with us for ten months, something came up that concerned me. They did not have a CASA, so I began calling the main CASA office in my city. That’s when I was told that there are about 500 CASA volunteers in my state for the nearly 10,000 children placed each year in foster care. Every CASA would have to take on twenty children in order for each of them to be represented, which is completely unfeasible.)

I have spoken with foster parents who either had no CASA or had a less-than-awesome one. Keep in mind, these folks are volunteers. Some volunteers take their jobs as seriously as if they were making six-figures to get the job done (that was the case with ours). Some, unfortunately, give their cases the bare minimum. Either way, it’s important to have as much support as you possibly can for your kids. If they come to you and don’t have a CASA, do what you can to get them one. Make phone calls. Be a squeaky wheel. (To find the CASA office in your state or county, Google “CASA in (your state).”

To learn more about what CASAs and GALs do, click here.

To learn more about becoming a CASA or GAL, click here.

To read one woman’s story about the difference a CASA can make in a foster child’s life, check out Ashley Rhodes-Courter’s memoir, “Three Little Words.” 

To get a broader, more dramatic idea of what CASAs and GALs do, the TV show The Guardian is a great intro. (It’s included with Amazon Prime 🙂