Stories of Impact

Nancy Carlson on volunteering for CASA:

Honestly, when I retired after 25 years of being a school counselor, the last place I thought I would end up volunteering was CASA. I was tired of dealing with social services and felt I had done my part to stop child abuse. But a friend talked my husband John and I into becoming CASAs and did us a great favor by doing so.

Life isn't fair for a lot of children. They are born to parents who love them, but addiction, mental health issues, domestic violence, and poverty prevent them from loving their children well. 

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Children who are abused and neglected go into foster care. That's when the Court Appointed Special Advocate gets to work.

Each child in foster care gets a lawyer, but the lawyer may have dozens of other cases. The same is true for caseworkers, therapists, and behavior specialists. There are many, many more children in need than there are service providers.

But a CASA has only one child to focus on (or at least one family of children). We are the ones who have time to listen to foster parent concerns, teacher concerns, and the child's concerns, and we have time to actually do something about it. My husband John and I have advocated for everything from psychological evaluations for a child to better fitting shoes, because a CASA's sole role in this complex system is to take care of one child, generally the child gets what we advocate for.

I have heard others say that being a CASA sounds too depressing. For us, it is anything but. John and I have an opportunity to make a genuine positive difference in a child's life. Our voice is heard in court. Service providers listen to us (or if they do not right away, we have the time and energy to pester them until they do). And though many children are too young to entirely understand what a CASA does, they all know that we have their back and will do our very best to protect them from further harm.

Plus we get to see many happy endings. Working to get your children back is a powerful motivator. We have seen parents successfully stop using drugs, graduate from parenting classes, and complete counseling for anger management. To date, all of our cases have ended with the children being reunited with their parents.

There are many more children in care than there are CASAs to serve them. Making a difference to another person is wonderful, making a difference to a child is a real blessing.

Pamela Butler on having a CASA as a child: 

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Pamela Butler, a former foster child, says of an early childhood spent moving from the family car to homeless shelters to motels.

Her life with her mother was pretty bleak: “I entered my mother’s apartment and went straight to my room. There was a bed with no blankets, a closet overflowing with trash, and a dresser against one wall. The carpet was littered with cigarette ashes, and the entire apartment reeked of smoke, waste, and mildew. I lay down on the mattress and cried.”

She says her mother would buy educational workbooks on sale at the drug store and, from them, teach her young daughter to read. Pamela relished those workbooks and the journals and notebooks she filled with her thoughts and poems. And although her life would continue to have more years of chaos than calm, Pamela clung to the possibilities in education and to the power of words.

Pat James, Pamela’s CASA volunteer, believes Pamela decided long before she even got to high school that she would find her acceptance and success in academic pursuits. So she gave school everything, even entire nights spent studying. “School was her haven,” says Pat. Her haven from a home she knew she would be better off away from and her one constant through a string of caseworkers, foster homes, attorneys and bad experiences. Her one constant, along with Pat James.

Pat believed her job with Pamela was to bring some hope into bad situations and earn the trust of this young woman who had learned to depend only on herself. She brought to almost every visit with Pamela a story from a newspaper or magazine about a young person who was able to overcome the worst. “I was so fearful that she would become discouraged,” Pat says. The newspaper clippings became a running joke between the two, but Pamela says she has kept every one.

A switch to a strong foster home, the devotion of one passionate CASA volunteer and Pamela’s tenacity put her on a better path toward the end of high school. She has earned a laundry list of scholarships and become a poised and powerful public speaker, taking her insights on the foster care system all the way to the governor.

Pamela was invited to testify to a legislative committee on behalf of the CASA program. At the end of the testimony, she said: “To give a child a CASA is to give them a voice. To give them a voice is to give them hope, and to give them hope is to give them the world. I believe that with all my heart.”

To hear more stories of impact, visit the National CASA YouTube channel.