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My Oath of Office for Court Appointed Special Advocates states I solemnly swear to support the Constitution of the United States of America and the Constitution of the State of Missouri and that, as a Court Appointed Special Advocate of the Thirty-first Judicial Circuit of Missouri, I will impartially and faithfully perform all duties incumbent upon me to the best of my skill and ability until released from said duty by the Juvenile Court.

I’ve sworn to investigate, report on, and monitor children and families in placement, and to make informed recommendations to the Court so as to aid the Court in permanency planning for children, which will be in their best interests.
 
CASA is a non-profit agency that recruits, screens and trains volunteers to become Court Appointed Special Advocates. CASA’s goal is to find a safe, permanent home for every abused child. CASA is an intervention and prevention program (www.casaforchildren.org) working to prevent future abuse by protecting siblings from similar experiences. CASA has a proven record of success. Children who have a CASA volunteer spend an average of a year less in the foster care system.
 
The turnover rate for CASA volunteers is high. The average time a volunteer serves is 2.8 years. National CASA’s 2008 Annual Report cites burnout (13%), being asked to leave by the program (13%), time commitment (26%), frustration with the system (19%), and poor volunteer position match (11%) as primary reasons CASA/GAL volunteers leave a program that’s proven to help abused children.

Why is it so difficult to be a CASA? The only picture I can paint, in broad strokes, is my own.

Without fail, there are ratty old blankets too big for the washer and quilts with anemic colors covering the furniture. I look for a clean spot to sit while giving the appearance of not looking. This technique is helpful on home visits. It’s similar to a magician’s trick which requires creating a temporary diversion—comment on the 52” flat screen while checking out the mold growing in the dish on the bookshelf. Pet the growling dog while looking for bedbugs in the youth bed. Smile sympathetically and say, “I can’t imagine what you’re going through,” while monitoring the father’s pupils and checking to see if he’s aroused while he sobs and stares at his daughter’s kindergarten picture.

I’ve never been to a dog-less home visit. The dogs are small, snippy and yippy or large and menacing. Boxers and Pit Bull mixes are popular. I haven't seen a Golden Retriever or Beagle. (Forget cats, nobody has cats.)  Most of the dogs quiver and their tails are tucked between their legs. (Parents who abuse and neglect their children rarely treat their animals differently.)
 
I like dogs. I interact with them because they need love and it earns their master’s trust. I send out soothing Dog Whisperer vibes…I’m not going to hurt you, dog. So don’t fuck with me. You too can be removed from this home.

The parental home visits have been harder than I thought. I didn’t think homes like these existed in Springfield, MO. I was wrong. They exist everywhere.

I can’t discuss the children in my case. I can say they know too much about hunger and genitalia for children under age six. Their mannerisms remind me of the poor dogs still trapped in their parents’ homes.  

There are far more abused and neglected children than Court Appointed Special Advocates and Guardian Ad Litems. I don’t believe the cycle of addiction, poverty and abuse is going to end but I know it can improve. CASA (www.casaforchildren.org) makes a difference.

How much is up to us.

Comments
9 Comment count
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Thank you for doing this...

Yes, the burnout and heartbreak are great and understandable. And probably nightmares too. It is wonderful that there are people like yourself who are willing to help these children. I wish more adults would make the commitment you have. Wish we could figure out support systems for adults that would prevent the need for volunteers to protect the children.

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Burnout

Burnout is high. So far I haven't had any nightmares although I dreamed I had a baby two nights ago. It's a hard commitment because it is unlike an volunteer position I've seen. It's actually a job, with a contract, a supervisor, etc... But, you don't get a paycheck. I do receive mileage reimbursement. 

People tell me all the time, "How can you do that? How can you listen to those stories?" I say, "How can I not?"

Jules

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Dear Jules - and I mean that in the truest sense ...

... your commitment to helping the helpless under those conditions is heartbreakingly moving. What a job!

How terrible that this goes on in a civilized country (Canada too).

Barb

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Civilized

Abuse of children occurs in every country in the world. It doesn't matter if the country is civilized. The only difference with the civilized countries is most appear to be doing something about it.

My biggest grievance with the internet is it became an effective tool to create more victims in the porn business, increase the pedophiles communication with each other and potential victims, and helped create the lucrative human trafficking business.  

Jules

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It's a sick world, that way ...

... and can make you despair.

I try to avoid violent thoughts, but things like this tempt me to wild fantasies of retribution.

Barb

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Misery

Hi Jules,
A coworker of mine is a CASA volunteer and has two kids to keep tabs on. She was formerly a flight nurse and also has to take care of her aging demented mother because her siblings wont. I work with her in a psychiatric unit, and my patients often are products of homes like the ones you describe.

My hat's off to you and her and another friend who tried to do CASA work but couldn't take the emotional strain.

The vicious, ugly ignorance that victimizes weak and defenseless children and animals seems always a part of our species, much to my frustration, sadness and dismay, but I constantly remind myself that strong, grounded, intelligent and caring people like you and my friend are making a difference in the world.

Thank you for writing about this painful and underportrayed aspect of the human condition. Your frankness and humor actually bring warmth and dimension to the story that, if it were missing, would be far less interesting.

Cheers,
Christine

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Ugly Ignorance

Christine,

Ignorance can be very ugly. Abusive parents are often defensive...they're just doing what was done to them; raising their kids like they were raised. What's wrong with that?

I feel for your friend. The turnover rate is high. I said I quit (to myself) every other week the first few months. I recently spoke to my supervisor because I needed advice on how to get my case worker to answer my emails. My sup was worried I was going to quit because many people quit over frustration with case workers and the system.  I was like, hell, no I'm not quitting. I just wanted to know if we could get the judge to get on her case or something. (No, we couldn't. Darn.)

When I was in training, they told us we'd start with one kid on our first case. They gave me four kids with four fathers in two  foster homes. And the mom was pregnant. (She had the baby.)

Jules

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Thank you!

Like the others, thanks for doing what you do amidst the heartbreak. The children whom have no one else to consider their best interests will remember you and all those who do the good work you do! Carin

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Kindness

Carin,

People like yourself, who take the time to thank me give me the momentum to keep going. Your kindness is much more powerful than you realize.

Jules