By Sally Wilson Erny, National Mentoring Resource Center
Court-appointed special advocate (CASA) volunteers work with some of society’s most vulnerable children—those who have experienced abuse or neglect. When someone signs up to be a CASA volunteer, they’re signing up to advocate for the best interests of a child in court.
Volunteers work with child welfare agencies, legal and child welfare professionals, educators and service providers to ensure that judges have all the information they need to make the most well-informed decisions for the best interest of each child.
CASA volunteers can be powerful mentors
CASA volunteers meet with children at least monthly, and often more frequently. They talk with the people who know the child best, and who see the child at school, in therapy, and at home. They learn about the child’s past and present, and their hopes for the future.
In doing this, it’s only natural that many dedicated CASA volunteers also end up playing the role of mentor, and it can have a major impact. They are sometimes the only consistent presence for a child. They show the child what it means to show up, to learn about all sides of an issue, and to work with others to advocate for a desired outcome. They empower the child to seize opportunities for personal growth.
Here’s an example
When Rick was assigned as the CASA volunteer to 16-year-old Michael, all seemed well: Michael was happy in his foster home, had friends at school, was well-liked by teachers and peers, and was active at the local Boys and Girls Club.
Yet as they got to know each other, Rick learned that Michael was facing significant academic hurdles. He had a very low GPA, struggled with attendance and was at risk of not graduating. Michael needed a consistent adult to support him academically.
Rick helped identify that Michael’s school was not a good fit for him. With support from his local program, San Francisco CASA, he worked with Michael’s counselor to transfer him to a new school that seemed to be a better fit.
Michael was excited by the chance for a fresh start. Shortly after his school transfer, he began earning A’s and B’s. He even made the honor roll! Michael finished his senior year without a single behavioral incident, and graduated with the rest of his class; Rick was there to see him walk.
Rick helped Michael with his transition to a local community college. Thanks to his own hard work and the support of an adult with the time and initiative to enable his school success, Michael is now a full-time community college student with plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree.
This story is not unique
Stories like this happen every day, in nearly 950 programs nationwide, whose 85,000 volunteers impact the lives of more than 260,000 children annually. The National CASA Association recently received a three-year, $3 million National Mentoring Grant through the U.S Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention—90 percent of which will be passed through to member programs.
Propelled by large- and small-scale partnerships, the tenacity of volunteers and the personal growth of the children they inspire, these programs will be able to reach more children with a model that has proven powerful for more than 40 years.
National Partnerships are Vital to Our Mission
As the national membership organization for nearly 950 state and local CASA programs across the U.S., it is vital that we leverage resources in order to best serve our member programs and support their high quality service to children in need. Through our national partnerships we seek to develop relationships that will cascade to our state organizations and local programs. An example would be a partnership with the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) that supports the CASA mission on the national level and through which local members of NCJFCJ can support their local CASA programs. Another example is our work with the National Center for State Courts (NCSC), which, like NCJFCJ, supports our mission nationally and helps build strong relationships with judges and court administrators at the state and local level. The support of the Kappa Alpha Theta (Theta) Fraternity for the National CASA Association helps drive relationships between local CASA programs and Theta chapters and alumnae clubs in the recruitment of volunteers and development of financial resources. Finally, the resources we receive from the National Mentoring Resource Center (NMRC) are valuable tools we can share with state organizations and local programs. National partnerships are integral in our ability to increase the number of advocates, enhance the training, resources, and services provided to and through CASA programs, and strengthen outcomes for children served by CASA/GAL volunteers.
For original post, please click here.