I think one of the hardest things to articulate about CASA to someone who isn’t familiar with the program is how many different things we do. Because the needs of our kids are so diverse, we’re often willing to go the extra mile, and do whatever it takes to see that each one is safe. Our hearts and our commitment to these children are one of our biggest attributes.
Because we wear so many hats, and because each case dictates which hats we wear specifically, we can find ourselves engaging with many different people and aspects of the system. As we engage, we notice things that we would like to improve. Some of these things are simple efficiencies, which could make services or procedures move along faster, and some of these things are massive inconsistencies within the system itself requiring overhaul. Sometimes we have a strong moral objection to these inconsistencies and they can truly challenge us.
In fact, “frustration with the system” is one of the things we report to National CASA. Every year we need to submit information about what CASA Volunteers leave and this is one of the reasons. I truly don’t judge this. I think everyone has been there at some point and has had to ask the question, “Can I really do this?” Yet we’re not alone, and I think everyone involved, both the courts and human services, would have a specific concern about how things are handled and how slowly change can sometimes feel. I would go one step further and say that as outsiders or newcomers to this system, we sometimes see these things very clearly. Yet there are often many reasons for why something is a particular way, and whenever it seems to be “just wrong”, we come to understand why it is that way and how it came to be. Then we set about trying to change it.
Now I strongly believe that CASA Volunteers have an important part to play in systems change. Anytime we hold a rally, as in Child Abuse Prevention Month, CASA Volunteers, Board Members and Staff, are usually a substantial number of the people in attendance. I also think the perspective CASA Volunteers bring is so healthy and eye opening. Your insights truly matter, and it is a personal goal of mine to begin to capture and put forward these insights in a systemic way. And let’s not forget elected officials! They know we are out there and so many of them value what we do in our community. They also know that we are watching.
Despite the frustration we can sometimes have, I do believe that we have the best role in the system. I know it might not always feel that way. What we do is sometimes truly selfless and without the proper recognition it deserves. Yet we really get to do the best part. That is, we get to focus on the kids without too much interference, and get to know them, look out for them and make sure they are safe and doing well. We get to focus on the kids in a way no one else gets to focus on them. We get to see them grow and overcome their experience firsthand. I hope as we move into the holiday season that everyone is getting a chance to spend some quality time with their CASA kids. They really need it this time of year, and you have the best seat in the house.