Document Volunteer Training: Practicing the Volunteer Role - Gathering Info

May 07 2015

By Janet Woodrome

This is the second in our series of blog posts by trainee Janet Woodrome documenting the volunteer training process. The second class she decided to take in her training was Practicing the CASA/GAL Volunteer Role: Gathering Information.

Meeting some real soldiers in the war to help ill-treated kids was a bit intense. I’d heard the system was bad, but this made me think of the military returning from the front with PTSD.

Trainer Shannon Moreno presented us a panel of three very professional lawyers from different angles in the courtroom — the state, the parents and the children.

As they talked about their average days, they used expressions like wild, insanity and hot mess. “It is very, very difficult work,” said Lori Kennedy of the Office of Parental Representation. The case loads are huge. “There’s just not enough people.” she said.

We’re in America and this is how professionals feel about the system? I wonder how the kids like it. Yikes.

Lawyers usually seem pretty tough and not ultra sensitive. But one appeared teary eyed talking about how hard it is to keep your emotions under control dealing with vulnerable kids.

A bright, shiny note in the discussion was that CASA volunteers are only assigned to one, occasionally two cases, unlike the lawyers who have dozens. And the system really counts on CASA volunteers to keep tabs. “We need you,” Lori said.

But even then it is a “hard gig,” said Leslie Hill of the Office of Child Representation. “You’re going to be in the trenches.”

She advised to be realistic. Don’t make promises to the kids or their families about the outcomes of their cases. And realize your involvement ends when the case ends.  Oops. I have a touch of save-the-world, mother-everyone tendency. I’ll need to remember this.

I was surprised to find one of the best things CASA volunteers can do is take excellent notes and keep up their contact logs. “If writing is not your thing, you may want to find another way to help CASA,” Leslie said. Excellent! Writing IS my thing. In a previous job, I kept everyone so advised I was called a “memo-maniac.” I’m hoping to shine in this department.

More advice: act professionally. Don’t write nasty side comments that will show up at trial if the case goes there. “Be respectful of everybody,” said Ali Crowley from the civil division of the district attorney’s office. Trainer Shannon said, “If you need to vent, vent to your supervisor.”

The families in these cases are stressed and watching for any sign of anything. If the kids say even the smallest good thing about their parents, report it. “This makes a huge difference to the parents,” Lori said.

They all agreed keeping families together is the main goal, if that is safe and possible. The situation does not need to be ideal. A child would rather live with their family in a cramped one bedroom than with strangers.

Something CASA volunteers do very well is find relatives to take the kids so the state won’t have to.
“The state has no business being a parent and doesn’t want to be,” Ali said.

That makes sense to me. Good job, CASA!