The child welfare system, while obviously well-intended, can be challenging in a number of ways. Foster timeframes need to be long enough for parents to address the initial safety issues, but as short as possible to lessen impacts on the child. Children need to maintain parental bonds wherever possible, but also need to be kept safe from parents who would neglect or abuse them. Parents are often ordered by the court to complete counseling and skill-building services, but can find it hard to juggle the demands for work, services, home life, visits, and more. Inevitably frustrations arise, and though the primary and most important function of a CASA volunteer is to be the voice of a child, sometimes a CASA's skills and resources can help other people involved in this difficult process.
As a CASA, a big part of your role is listening. Sometimes this in itself can be hard, if we think we know what someone or some situation needs (if it were only up to us!) We attend meetings of community service providers and support workers and listen to their input. We listen to the children we advocate for. We listen to reports from their caseworkers, teachers, and therapists. Of course, a big part of the advocacy is to use all this information to provide our own recommendations to the court about what the child needs. But in the meantime, there's a lot of listening!
Sometimes it can feel that we wish we had more of a say in what actually happens with these children and families, but sometimes just listening really does pay off. There was one family I worked with where the parents were really frustrated. They felt that nobody was listening to them, or helping them move forward successfully through the system. With a full caseload of kids to work with, it was hard for me to make time to sit down with them, but I kept managing it here and there throughout the case. Then finally one day as they were leaving my office, the father gripped my hand, looked in my eyes, and said "Thank you--I feel like you're the only one who really listens to us." He knows my responsibility is to advocate for his child (not him), and that I ultimately can't decide anything about how the case goes. But that day, he didn't need an advocate or a fortune teller; listening was enough.