Thursday, August 29, 2013

What To Expect if I'm Appointed as Your Child's CASA

I am an unpaid volunteer appointed by the Court to investigate and monitor the things that happen in you and your child’s life while your family is involved in dependency court. I sometimes facilitate communication, resources or services; and I advocate, in and out of court, for things that need to change.

Some judges call me the eyes and ears of the court. The voice of the child. As a CASA, I made a pledge to ensure that the Court, the child welfare agency, and your child’s attorney fulfill their obligations to your child in a timely manner .

I will meet you face to face, and get to know your child. I will talk to the people involved in your family’s life: social worker, attorneys, counselor, addiction specialist, teacher, doctor, child care provider, psychologist, neighbor, family members and friends. I'll visit you in your home and in the community. I will observe visits between you and your child. I will visit your children in the foster home and at school .

I will review documents. I will hear about your failings, but also seek to understand your strengths. I hope you will share what you do well and what kind of support you have available in your family and community. I will ask many questions .

In court, I will stand beside you, or your child, if they’re old enough to attend—or beside your attorney, or your child’s attorney, or the State’s attorney, or the social worker—at a long table in the juvenile courtroom. I will have a legal pad and a cheap pen, a Bic maybe, or a Zebra, or—on a good day—a Precise V5, blue ink .

Seated at the table facing the judge, I will make note of what each party has to say. I will take stock of the state’s accusations, itemized on the petition as alleged acts or behaviors. I will jot a list of everyone present. I will watch who talks to whom and for how long. What is their body language? How do they occupy space: Hunching close? Leaning well apart?

I will take time off work to appear in court. I will miss my own child’s soccer game to meet when you get off work. I will visit you on weekends or evenings if that’s when you can be home. I will think about you and your child on holidays. I will live with your family between my ears.

I will form opinions. I will share them with you and the other parties. I will push. I will prod. I will rub people the wrong way. I will strive to be respectful and compassionate, but sometimes what I say will be hurtful. I will feel sorry for that, but will say it anyway on behalf of your child.

I will write a report to the court that includes a summary of why your children came into foster care, how they are adjusting, your progress to fix what’s wrong, the efforts of the child welfare agency to help you, and recommendations about services that may still need to occur. I will give kudos where they have been earned. I will ask the court to remedy what has gone wrong.

I will encourage you to make the changes necessary to reunify your family, but my primary focus is to ensure your child has a safe and stable home in a reasonable length of time. I hope it is with you. Whether it is or not, I will advocate zealously for your child.

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