Even the thesaurus—a book that has sadly been supplanted by the Shift F7 keyboard counterpart—has its own national day.
Doing my part to honor the work of the thesaurus to broaden our vocabulary (and boost the grade level scores on high school essay assignments), I am taking a look at our organization’s name today: Court Appointed Special Advocates, CASA for short.
What do these 4 words really mean? What do they say about the dedicated volunteers who take them on as a title? Let’s see what the thesaurus can tell us.
Court is a judicial system, led by a judge. It’s the primary place we do our work as guardians ad litem for kids (you can find that doozy of a term broken down in another blog post). It’s also what makes our volunteer opportunity truly unique, because we are an official representative of this judicial system with access and status as official parties on a child’s case.
It’s the bench, which our volunteers may be asked to approach because a judge wants to know what they have to say about the kids they’re working with.
It’s a courthouse and a building for legal proceedings where we do a lot of our work, especially for our team of professional staff supervisors who are accompanying our volunteers as they speak up for kids in front of a judge every few months.
But court is also a verb, and it can mean to brave, to challenge, to stand up to and to take on. These synonyms are powerfully reflective of the work of CASA. Our volunteers commit to the huge challenge of helping our community’s most vulnerable children every day. Our focus is on a child’s best interest, and sometimes that conflicts with the bureaucracies of the state, the desires of the parents, relatives or foster placement, sometimes even the wishes of a child. But when CASA knows, through our diligent research and time spent getting to know a situation, that something is in a child’s best interest, we take that on. We stand up for our recommendations even if we’re a little lonely on our side.
Appointed means that someone is named or designated, and there’s not a much more official designation than when a judge makes you raise your right hand and swears you into the guardian ad litem role. CASA volunteers are officially designated by that judge to speak up for a child’s best interest.
Appointed is chosen. There is a process to becoming a CASA volunteer. You have to submit a thorough application, undertake a personal interview process and pass extensive background and reference checks to make sure you are safe and appropriate, and have the right level of commitment to become a CASA volunteer and work with vulnerable children. You don’t have to have a specific background or special training in advance, but you do have to share a commitment to improving children’s lives, a willingness to learn and an open mind towards life experiences different from your own. We say that CASA is not your typical volunteer role, and that we’re looking for not-so-typical volunteers to take it on!
It’s dispatched. And that’s what a judge is doing when they swear you in. They’re sending you into the community with the specific purpose of making children’s lives better.
It’s destined. Perhaps some people are destined to be advocates for kids. We hear from many volunteers that they learned about CASA years before they started, and that CASA kept coming back into their lives somehow, reminding them and showing them signs that someday they’re going to take on the challenge of advocating for kids!
And finally, appointed means equipped. We do everything we can to thoroughly train volunteers in their role so that they are equipped and ready to speak up for kids. We also provide them with a professional staff supervisor to support them and serve as a guidepost for moments when a volunteer doesn’t feel quite as equipped as they’d like to be!
We love this part of our acronym because CASA volunteers are truly special. They are distinguished, distinctive, important and exceptional! They are also specialized because of the intensive training and continuing education they undertake to become volunteer advocates.
They are unique and out of the ordinary. They are not your typical volunteers! They commit to 39 hours of training in order to then take potentially multi-year commitments working with kids. The average lifetime of a case is 17 months. (The commitment changes based on which type of role you take on. We do offer Early Family Engagement and Family Engagement roles that have a shorter time requirement.)
They are significant. Their role matters in the courtroom and matters in children’s lives.
CASA volunteers are promoters and defenders of a child’s best interest in an overburdened child welfare system. They sometimes serve as a child’s spokesperson or agent if that child can’t speak for themselves.
As a verb, volunteer advocates advise a judge and offer recommendations on what’s in a child’s best interest so that judge can make well-informed decisions.
They guide a child or family of children through the complicated foster care and child welfare system.
Volunteer advocates encourage and champion whatever a child needs or is in their best interest.
They are in a child’s corner. They brace or build up a child when times are tough.
And as The Honorable Darlene Byrne says, “CASA volunteers go to bat for kids.”
So, Happy National Thesaurus Day to you. If any of these synonyms feel familiar or perhaps aspirational to you, maybe it’s time you looked into your destiny and see if it includes volunteering with CASA.
2019 Advocacy January