A Voice for the Children
A big thank you to my wonderful friend, Samantha White, for agreeing to write a guest post! Read on to hear about her experience advocating for children in foster care. She is truly inspiring!
"The tables in the front of the courtroom are filled. Four lawyers, flanked by the birth parents, a caseworker, and a case supervisor. Each of these people representing and defending someone else - each parent, the state, and the children’s wishes. However, despite the fact that the child welfare system is in place to protect children, there is no one there to advocate specifically for their best interest. This is where a CASA (court appointed special advocate) or GAL (guardian ad litem) comes in. These volunteers are legal parties on the case, with the task of advocating for the child’s (or children’s) best interest while they are in the custody of the state. While the legal rights and expectations of CASAs or GALs vary from state to state, they are generally granted legal party status, allowing them to visit the children regularly, talk to their biological and foster parents, teachers, caseworkers, doctors, and therapists. This intimate knowledge of the children, their case, and their current status allows a CASA to have a bird’s eye view of the situation and present an unbiased perspective to the court.
CASAs are invaluable to children in care because they can advocate for the child’s needs while in state custody, as well as advocate for their best interest in the resolution of their case. It has been proven that children with CASAs assigned have almost half as many foster placements as those without, are twice as likely to receive counseling services, and spend an average of 8 months less in foster care.
As a child, I got stuck in the middle of a messy custody battle between my parents. Being young and not wanting to hurt either of them, I was scared and unsure of what to say. I needed someone to be my voice. I was swayed by their influence and didn’t always know what was best for me and my brother. I felt the weight of the responsibility of choosing where to live and which parent’s heart to break - a burden a child shouldn’t have to carry. This experience served as the main motivator for me choosing to become a CASA. Now that I was an adult, I wanted to use my voice to speak up for a child that isn’t able to do so.
The child welfare system is complex, and each case has many moving parts. CASAs help to ensure that while the child is in care, small but important things, like doctor’s appointments, student teacher conferences, etc. don’t fall through the cracks. They can also provide an outside perspective on whether a foster placement is a safe place. Having one party looking out for the child while they are in foster care can make a significant difference to this already traumatic experience.
If you’re interested in learning more about CASA, check out their national website and find a chapter near you. The book linked below, written by a GAL, also provides a first-hand account of what being a child advocate is like. Being a CASA has been the most rewarding volunteer experience of my life, and I recommend it to anyone passionate about child welfare."
Written by: Samantha White