This isn’t about us. It’s about the children.
Our goal for the future is simple: let’s provide justice for every single child in care. Every child in care deserves to have a CASA volunteer standing by his or her side. It seems deceptively simple, but this is the most challenging goal we have ever set as an organization. As we move toward making this goal a reality, it’s more important than ever that we maintain our focus.
Children don’t come into foster care because of happy circumstances. They are survivors of abuse, of neglect, of tragic situations far beyond their control. Children who experience stress in their youth live with the echoes of that stress for their entire lives. In fact, new research indicates that youth who experience trauma grow into adults far more prone to bouts of depression.
Entering the foster care system is also stressful. We should be honest and clear-eyed about that. Moving from home to home, never knowing how long you’ll stay or how you’ll be treated, having your future governed by judges and CPS workers instead of parents – these are difficult and trying experiences.
CASA volunteers do not make the stress instantly disappear. Their role, instead, is to guide these youth through the foster care system until they are safe in a permanent home. CASA volunteers, by fighting relentlessly and selflessly for the youth they represent, are providing an essential service that no one else can provide.
We know it makes a difference: children who work with CASA volunteers spend less time in long-term foster care, are less likely to re-enter care, and get more help while they are in the system. (Read more about the effectiveness of the CASA model.)
We also know it makes a difference because we hear it from the youth who are served by CASA volunteers: Lauren, who says her CASA volunteer “gave me stability when I was at my most vulnerable;” Kansas, who praised her CASA volunteer for “always making me feel like my opinions mattered,” Melissa, who says that her CASA volunteer was “the only one we could turn to for answers.” These are just a few examples from children that we have served.
This isn’t about the system. It’s about the children.
The child welfare system isn’t perfect. We can understand this without accepting it as an excuse. Children should be raised by families, not by a bureaucratic system. We know this, too. But we could either sit around cursing the inadequacies of the system, or we could do something about it. CASA volunteers do something about it—working with the system and outside of it at the same time.
It’s important for CASA volunteers and staff members to maintain focus on this critical work. Of course, we’re only human. So we get distracted by the challenges in our lives, the petty grievances and annoyances. We need to remember that whatever is happening in our life, none of it compares to the experience of the youths we serve. Our programs can just as easily get distracted from our main focus: states are facing extraordinary budget crises; the nation may be moving toward a second recession; there is extraordinary unrest overseas; a presidential election is coming next year.
But let’s not lose our focus. We have important things to do. And every hour we allow ourselves to become distracted is an hour that a child languishes in care without a CASA volunteer.
This isn’t about distractions, or about second thoughts, or about excuses. This isn’t about failure. It’s about the children. And they’re depending on us.