by Ashika Sethi
“As a mother, knowing what you would give your children versus what kids in the [foster care] system have put things in perspective,” says volunteer advocate Mary. “It makes me go harder. I know what these kids need because I’ve seen my kids go through the same things.”
Advocating for children in the foster care system is no simple pursuit. From the time spent learning about the child and their needs to the emotional toll that working with kids who’ve been abused or neglected can have, this volunteer opportunity requires a lot of emotional and mental stamina.
Oftentimes, when prospective volunteers are on the fence about whether CASA is the right volunteer organization for them, they are largely hesitant about the significant time commitment (which varies depending on the type of volunteer role you take on). It is absolutely possible to succeed at this volunteer opportunity without crowding the rest of your life, if you plan ahead and stick to helpful daily habits.
We spoke with some volunteer advocates who’ve managed to fit CASA into their busy lives while also juggling their own kids’ demanding and busy schedules.
Jana and her sister became volunteers and have advocated for a sibling group of five children since 2017. Jana has a toddler at home and was motivated to volunteer to use her background as a clinical psychologist to help kids who’ve experienced trauma as a result of abuse or neglect. When asked how she balances her advocacy with her daily life, Jana’s answer is working in the “fringe” hours.
“I have a friend who talks about working in the ‘fringe’ hours of the day—the hours when we’re not actively working on something,” says Jana. “My fringe hours are when I’m on my commute, eating lunch at my desk, waiting at the dentist’s office. I’ll make calls and shoot off quick emails to people I need to contact for my case during that time.”
"I’m using this volunteer opportunity to open my mind and learn how to best raise my child and how to best advocate for kids on my case."
When asked how having a child at home has affected her advocacy for kids, Jana says, “I’m a new mom, and it’s been eye-opening to see not every child has loving and protecting parents. It’s good to know that so I can instill the importance of being loving in my kid’s life. When we are openminded, it helps us learn and grow as humans. I’m using this volunteer opportunity to open my mind and learn how to best raise my child and how to best advocate for kids on my case. Yes, it’s a huge time commitment, but you get so much out of it.”
Mary has volunteered with CASA for half a year and has advocated for one toddler. Mary has three kids of her own, spanning from 18 months to seven years old. Mary was motivated to become a volunteer with CASA after reading about racial disproportionality in the child welfare system. “I am black, and I felt like I could bring my experiences into my advocacy for black children in the system, the customs and culture I grew up with,” says Mary.
While Mary is still learning the ropes on how to fit CASA into her busy schedule, she has started making a weekly routine to work advocacy into her daily life. Working with her CASA supervisor, Sabrina, has been a huge help to Mary. “Sabrina is also a mom, and she has given me great tips on how to manage my time,” says Mary. “I’ve made a routine—after my kids are dropped off and my baby is sleeping in the backseat, I’ll call Sabrina and talk about my case on my drive home. I feel super supported, even if timing is hard and I’m busy, I am supported by Sabrina. She’s always there for me.”
“Because I’ve been through it myself, I know what developmental milestones the child on my case should be hitting at what age. Now, I have this innate knowledge that helps me help the child on my case.”
Mary believes that having her own children makes her a stronger advocate. “When you don’t have kids, you may not know how children are supposed to act in certain situations,” says Mary. “Because I’ve been through it myself, I know what developmental milestones the child on my case should be hitting at what age. Now, I have this innate knowledge that helps me help the child on my case.”
Sarah has advocated for a toddler for almost a year. She has two daughters, 12 and 15 years old. “I’m a stay-at-home mom and my kids have very busy schedules,” says Sarah. “I have a very strict 3 pm cutoff time so that I can still be involved in my kids’ lives. Before 3 pm, I have time to do my advocacy work, make calls, and send off emails.”
When asked what tips she has for other volunteers with busy schedules, Sara recommends setting aside blocks of time. “It can’t just be one dedicated day each month to get all of your advocacy work done,” says Sarah. “Because you’re working on other people’s time schedules, it is better to set aside blocks of time each week so you can accommodate for other’s timelines.”
"It is easy for us to stay in our respective bubbles and judge others on their life decisions, but until we become involved with people outside of our circles, with people who are struggling, we’ll never know what they’re going through."
Sarah says having kids at home has reinforced the fact that her children live in a very big bubble. “Everybody knows that we all tend to associate with people who share your social and socioeconomic status,” says Sarah. “Volunteering at CASA has opened my eyes to other lifestyles, family dynamics, and home situations. It was a really good reminder. It is easy for us to stay in our respective bubbles and judge others on their life decisions, but until we become involved with people outside of our circles, with people who are struggling, we’ll never know what they’re going through.”
Renee has advocated for eight children in her five-year tenure at CASA. She has three children of her own, ranging from six to ten years old. Renee balances her advocacy for children with her daily life by prioritizing diligent planning. “I have two tips, prioritize planning and seek out support from family and friends when life gets very busy,” says Renee. “When I’m going on a visit to see a child, I leave my own kids with my husband. I also leverage the time when my kids are asleep to make calls and do my advocacy work for CASA.”
While some people may prefer to work with kids in the system that are not close in age to their own children, says Renee, she prefers to advocate for kids in similar stages in life. “On a logistics level, this helps with transportation,” says Renee. “It also gives me an incredible amount of context because I know the milestones that children on my case should be hitting, and what struggles they might be having with their peers and at school.”
We all know that being a parent comes with its own world of challenging logistics and busy schedules. Those skills learned through parenting, however, can be extremely helpful when seeking out what’s in the best interest of children in the foster care system. Volunteering with CASA is a great way to leverage that knowledge learned through parenting to give back to children in our community.
Interested in leveraging your parenting skills and knowledge by becoming a volunteer advocate? Learn more on our Volunteer page.
2019 April Recruitment