As a retired teacher, my expectation was that being an advocate for children would be a natural continuance of my helping disadvantaged children. What I found was an unexpected reality.
I have learned about the startling number of children living in foster care and the lack of foster families to care for these children. I discovered how substance abuse, poverty, weak family connections, crime and hopelessness are impacting our community in horrific ways. I have been witness to a foster care system that is overwhelmed and understaffed. Despite all the negative, I have seen ordinary people step up to make extraordinary differences.
During my ten years as a CASA, I have advocated for children who have found permanency in various types of ways. Some have been reunited with one or more parents. Some have gone to live with extended family members. Others have found loving families that have opened their hearts and homes. Some sibling groups have been adopted by different families. Unfortunately, after many years, a few are still languishing in care.
Of course I am heartened by the number of families who care for children who are thrown into the system, but what is absolutely amazing to me is the resilience of the children themselves. I have followed foster children in and out of foster homes, therapeutic care, children shelters, mental health facilities and group homes. They have suffered abuse, neglect, loss after loss, separation and fear of the unknown – and yet they survive. I have seen the least powerful display the greatest strength.
I would encourage others to consider becoming a CASA volunteer. It doesn’t take a particular background, profession or skill set. It only takes an open mind, an open heart and the belief that one person can truly make a difference.