By: Helga Graham

1 Helga Graham

Helga Graham
CASA Volunteer Advocate

Oh yes, being a CASA Volunteer is so different from all the other volunteering I’ve done.  Just like with other volunteer activities, I jumped right in, excited and willing to change the world of abused and neglected children. But by the third or fourth session of the eight session training that we had back in those days, I was scared to death and had doubts that I could ever keep my cool when dealing with abusive parents; that I could ever understand the law, the regulations, the do’s and don’ts; that I could ever really make a difference in the life of an abused and neglected child.

As is often true with a “first”, my first case is still my first love – not only because my involvement with that child continued right alongside my work on the next and following cases, but also because that case brought out qualities in me that I didn’t know I had.

That first case involved real detective work: searching for Mom, searching for Dad while the child was in an emergency shelter; leaving messages at favorite eating places for Mom; spending hours on Mom’s doorstep, until she came home; and having endless discussions with Mom about Life and the Universe.  That Mom was different.

But I had a wonderful experience with the child, and with the foster parents.  The foster parents were totally informed about the role of a CASA, and we worked as a team from the beginning.  I attended all of the school functions, ball practices, birthday parties, and even a Super Bowl Party given by the foster parents.  I had so many good times with that child – outings to local points of interest, trips to the pizza parlor, playground activities (including tossing a football), singing silly songs in the car, and looking over homework.

But there was also holding on to him, when bad memories came over him.  There were some tough moments.  I cried sometimes, worried if the child could stay safe and loved.  But I was always assured by my CASA Supervisor and the CPS Caseworker that everything possible would be done to achieve whatever was in the child’s best interest.  And then he began to shed the problems from his past – slowly, but with great “hurrah” praises by all involved in his life.

Eventually there was a trial for termination of parental rights, and that was one of the scariest chapters of my life – I admit there were sleepless nights, and I said to myself “You could be a crossing guard at a local elementary school, why did you become a CASA Volunteer, and put yourself through this?”  Well, as scary as that trial was, looking in my CASA child’s eyes (without even thinking about the huge file that contained all of the paperwork connected with his case) – I knew that I had to fight for that kid and his future.  And then I was not afraid anymore of the jury, the judge, the attorneys, and all of the expert witnesses.

That child on my first CASA case has now been adopted by those wonderful foster parents, he is doing great in school and sports, and it is a true joy to be able to look back on that case as a real success story for all of us – CASA, CPS, and the entire System.

I have had other cases, some children were adopted, some were reunited with their parents.  I feel that I made a difference in most of those cases.  Even though there may have been additional removals in one or two instances, I believe that I still made a positive difference – at least for a time.

When I moved to another state, thousands of miles away, I could not imagine NOT becoming a CASA once again.  And so I became a CASA in my new home state of Washington – huge case, huge file (17 volumes at CPS), nobody at the CASA Office wanted that case – people thought I was crazy to take that case; but it involved kids needing someone to care………… what’s crazy about that ????

Two years ago – five years after leaving South Texas, we returned……….and started right in with the local  CASA Program again.  We (my husband, Richard, and I) are on our fifth case since returning.  The kids still need someone to care, and we still care.

 

 

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