Giving Children Back Their Voices
“My CASA asks about ME. She wants to know how I am and what I need. She comes to see me and just lets me talk or not talk, she lets me do what I need to do and I like that.” - nine year old boy talking about his assigned CASA advocate
Lending my voice to these children has changed my life and I have watched it change the lives of volunteers and children, as well. Just stepping up for one foster child can change the course of their life forever. Them knowing someone who cares about them and who wants to help them is sometimes the biggest thing these children need.
My name is Meg Singletary, I’m 25, and I work with local CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) in South Georgia. I am the advocate coordinator in Thomas and Brooks Counties.
Through my experiences interacting with foster children at summer camp, learning about community service and needs at Truett McConnell College, and volunteering at my local food bank, I developed a strong passion to serve vulnerable families and children. The more that I learned about these families and children, the more that I knew I had to work with them to help.
When I announced to my family that I was going to work for the Georgia Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS), I vividly remember how shocked many of them were. I had family members tell me that they did not think I could do it, that I had too much of a tender heart and I would not make it. I was dead set on working for DFCS and was hired as a Child Protective Services Investigator.
My job was to investigate allegations of abuse and neglect. I would go out on these calls and try to find out if abuse and/or neglect was happening. I remember my first time going out on a call, I was terrified. Afraid to say the wrong thing, afraid to offend the wrong person, afraid that I might actually come across abuse. And I did all of those things. I spent almost two years investigating abuse and bringing children into foster care, when need be. I was referred to as a baby snatcher, often, hated by many, but I was making a difference in the lives of abused and neglected children and that is what kept me coming back to work every day.
Actually being someone who removed children from abusive situations opened my eyes to how horrifying of an experience it is for everyone involved. I felt like I could do more for these children that I was removing. That is when I learned about Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA). I knew a little about CASA from working for DFCS, but I did not know exactly their role. I did some research and found out that CASAs are specially trained volunteers from all walks of life. These volunteers are appointed by a judge to advocate for the well-being of children in foster care. I applied to work with the CASA Kids Program of the Southern Judicial Circuit here in Thomasville and was hired as the advocate coordinator in Thomas and Brooks Counties.
These children receive advocacy in juvenile court and, let me tell you, these volunteers are amazing! They visit with the children monthly (sometimes weekly) and do their own independent investigation of the child’s situation. Often, CASAs are the only consistent person in the life of foster children, as CASAs stay with a case until permanency, either adoption or reunification. CASAs provide consistency. CASAs ask the children what their wants and needs are and communicate them to the judge. The also make recommendations in the best interest of these children.
In my time here, we have seen children get needed therapy and interventions because of a CASA, ethical and necessary adoptions finalized because of a CASA, and many other things that these children need. As the advocate coordinator, I get to support these volunteer advocates. Sometimes that is by doing child visits, sometimes that is through digging up important information, and sometimes that is through helping them try to wrap their minds around the abuse and neglect that the children have experienced and how, as a CASA, they can help. We give children their voice back, we make sure that they know they are loved and cared for, that they are not lost in the system. We give them a card on their birthday, presents for Christmas, help connect them to community activities, and try to help them get permanency more quickly.
I always say, that CASA is a good way to kind of dip your toe in the water. It is not bringing children into your home, but it is lending them a voice. Being a CASA gives you a front row seat to how the system works and also gives you a chance to make a huge difference. Children with an assigned CASA are more likely to find a safe and permanent home and half as likely to re-enter the foster care system. If you are feeling that tug, give in to it. Get involved, because as hard as it will be, you will make the difference in the lives of abused and neglected children and that is incredibly life giving and will bless you in return.
CASA is all over the United States, so you can find a program and get involved, you can lend your voice to these vulnerable children. It does not take a huge amount of time and you will be supported the whole way through. Seeing a child be reunited with parents who have worked hard to overcome their obstacles and be a good parent is amazing. Seeing a child be adopted, forever chosen by a family and made one of their own is amazing. Getting involved will bring you face to face with brokenness in your community, and will break your heart at times, but getting to be a part of a foster child’s life, helping them get the services that they need and showing them love and care is worth it all.
A little boy who was just recently assigned a CASA for the first time could not believe that she was there “just for him”. She was his very own CASA.