By Callie Langford
In October of 1999, Lydia Garcia joined the staff team at CASA of Travis County as a volunteer supervisor. A few years later she transitioned into her current role of Training Director. This month, we have the honor of celebrating Lydia’s 20th anniversary at CASA.
Since Lydia started 20 years ago, we’ve served 10,910 children in Travis County. We’ve supported 3,015 volunteers on their cases (many of whom came through Lydia’s training classroom). Lydia has worked on 3 different National CASA training curriculums (and supported our own local curriculum adjustments and enhancements).
Lydia loves “getting to know people on the front end of their journey with CASA.” She also knows that many people come in with “pre-conceived notions about how things need to be in families. Their hearts are in the right place and they want to help kids, but some come in with particularly strong ideas about biological parents.” Her training team makes it their top priority to help volunteers start with a clean slate for families.
“If nothing else, we hope to impart a sense of humility, and the sense that there’s always more learning to do.”
“If nothing else, we hope to impart a sense of humility, and the sense that there’s always more learning to do.” Lydia’s team trains our volunteers on a strengths-based approach to parents, with an emphasis on viewing them first from a place of resourcefulness and resilience, versus starting with what someone’s done wrong. “It’s so easy to rush to judgment when you first read the affidavit from the case, but we need to take the time to get to know families.”
The child welfare system isn’t easy for parents. They’ve most likely entered the process because of a lack of resources and support systems. Now they have the additional potholes and barriers of trying to navigate the system’s challenging requirements, which would be tough for many families to do even when not starting at a deficit. Lydia recalls how years ago there used to be only one CPS office parents had to visit, and that it wasn’t on a public transportation route.
When safe, it’s ultimately in a child’s best interest to stay with their families, so CASA focuses first on reunification, followed by relative adoption on cases. This strengths-based approach to parents helps build working relationships that can bring families the support they need to heal and reunify. “We encourage volunteers to ask parents the questions no one else asks them. ‘Tell me about a day in your life when you had kids with you, before CPS involved, from when you get up to when you go to bed.’ That’s how you get to know what a family’s like—what they’re dealing with and what their strengths are.”
Lydia regularly refers to “approaching with curiosity and wonder” in her classroom. A volunteer shared this phrase a few years ago in class and Lydia feels it’s the perfect approach to the work we do with CASA. Whether getting to know kids, parents, attorneys, caseworkers, foster placements, etc., approaching with a positive sense of curiosity and wonder to get to know their perspective and experience is the best place to start for CASA!
Lydia always appreciates anyone who brings something new to the classroom and the training process, and she admits, “We’re not always right ourselves.” Lydia recalls a very early learning experience as a volunteer supervisor. Her volunteer was Jack Murray, who happens to be our longest serving volunteer (and the only person who’s been at CASA longer than Lydia). “Jack always called me coach, he still does, but he taught me a lot. We worked on a case where the parents ended up losing their rights, and I remember hearing them say, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll have another kid.’ I thought that was so horrible, so crass. A year later they’re back in the system with a new baby. Even though I was supposed to be the supervisor with the wisdom, I was thinking, ‘No, that’s it. She’s not going to do it again.’ It took Jack telling me, ‘Lydia, you’re not giving her a chance.’ He met with the mom many times and discovered she was seeing things differently and was in a totally new place in her life. And she did end up reunifying with her new baby. Every parent goes through stuff, and they may not necessarily be ready to handle things at one time, but there are second chances and we have to be open to them.”
"For me, if I ever come to work any day thinking I can’t learn anything else from anybody, then I really don’t need to be here.”
Lydia encourages her team, her volunteers in training, and herself to always stay open-minded and to keep learning and approaching everything with that curiosity and wonder. “It doesn’t matter how long we’ve been here in this work. For me, if I ever come to work any day thinking I can’t learn anything else from anybody, then I really don’t need to be here.”
Training 2019 October