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.
Causes Jules Jacob Supports
CASA of Southwest Missouri, Master Gardeners of the Ozarks, University of Missouri Master Gardeners, Missouri Court Appointed Special Advocates Association...