Documenting the Volunteer Training Experience: CASA 101

Apr 16 2015

By Janet Woodrome

Note from CASA: Over the coming weeks we're going to be sharing a series of blog posts by volunteer trainee Janet Woodrome. Janet is a former journalist who is documenting the training experience class by class, sharing her questions, fears, expectations and more! For those of you interested in volunteering, we hope this series will offer some insight into the training process. If you're already a volunteer, we hope this brings back fond memories of your own time in training with Lydia, Wendy, Shannon and the many members of our staff who help with this process. We hope you enjoy the first post this series - Janet's experience in CASA 101!

There was a CASA coffee mug parked at my table as I settled into my chair for my first training session. “I am a powerful voice in a child’s life” was written on the side.

During the next three hours, I saw the magnitude of that statement as the CASA staff and trainer painted the picture of the role and huge responsibility of a CASA volunteer. This was CASA 101.

“You are sworn in by a judge,” said Sonia Kotecha, the director of Community and Strategic Initiatives. “The judge really, really values your input. You are on equal footing with everyone in the courtroom.”

Really? That’s pretty amazing. Me? I’ve been a stay-at-home mom for the last 15 years, having left a career to invest time in my children. Now my kids are grown or just about there. I‘d felt a bit irrelevant in the world lately, struggling along with my fellow baby boomers as new social media emerge daily. So CASA would put me in courtrooms talking to judges, attorneys and social workers about the best interests of a precious child?

Maybe CASA is somewhere I could use both my motherhood experience and my long ago but not forgotten professional skills. And they are short on help?

“Only 80 percent of the kids in the CPS system get a CASA,” Sonia said. “We need to double or triple the number of people in this room.” I looked around to see about 10 or so trainees like me.

Apparently there are 700 Travis County children who need an advocate but don’t yet have one.

So I felt honored and motivated to take on this new “job.” But I wondered how I would decipher this complex system, loaded with alphabet soup words and high-conflict situations. There are 12 training sessions, but….It sounds a little overwhelming.

Then trainer Shannon Moreno said the magic words that gave me some relief about rookie hood. “Your supervisor will be by your side to help navigate and empower you to make recommendations to the court,” she said. A CASA supervisor is with the volunteer at every court hearing and important meeting. Hurrah! Extremely knowledgeable help will be by my side. Good to know. Phew!

Learning to work with various income levels also will be part of the training ahead. “Poverty is not neglect,” Shannon said. I’ve not considered this idea until now but it makes sense. CASAs look for safe situations for the kids, not necessarily optimum ones. And family reunification is the goal in every case, if possible, she said.

A future class will cover cultural competence since people come from different cultures and different social standards. For example, hitting children with a belt is acceptable in some other countries, but not here anymore. A minimum level of care must be met, she said.

Toward the end of the classes, the trainee can decide if there are certain situations they don’t think they could handle, she said. I have a CASA friend in Chicago who decided she couldn’t handle any drug-addicted babies, so they give her different types of cases.

It’s a lot to think about. I left the class feeling challenged. But I’m looking forward to learning more.