Change a Child’s Story with CASA
The Story of Family Advocates’ CASA Program
Best interest advocacy is a hallmark of the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) Program, and our GALs do that by being a consistent presence in the child’s life through monthly visitation and contacting all of the people in the children’s life so they can make recommendations to the court that are in the child’s best interest. Generally, these recommendations can include any number of things such as increased counseling or therapy, increased, extended, or limited (as needed) visitation with the child’s parents, educational services such as tutoring or assessment for an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), a change in placement, or medical, dental, or vision screenings, etc. And sometimes recommendations go above and beyond and are non-traditional such as Pokémon cards, bunkbeds, bicycles, and cakes to celebrate adoptions that are equally important to the child’s best interest and provide a sense of normalcy to the children we work with. Our volunteer Guardians ad Litem (GALs) are simply amazing people who volunteer to do incredibly difficult work to advocate for the best interest of abused, abandoned, and neglected foster children in our community.
In our last fiscal year, 177 Guardians ad Litem and 86 pro bono attorneys donated more than 13,000 hours advocating for the 551 children they served and drove more than 59,000 miles in their pursuit, but that only tells a fraction of the impact of their work for the children in Ada, Boise, Elmore, and Valley Counties. Due to the nature of child protection cases, GALs don’t always see the impact of their work because some of that advocacy takes time to come to fruition for a child and their family, especially if it involves more concrete resources such as mental health services, housing, or meeting educational needs. Change doesn’t often occur overnight, but our GALs do what they can to walk beside and advocate for the children and families they serve day in and day out through the life of the child protection case.
Our CASA Program is privileged to work incredible GALs and there are so many times and instances when their best interest advocacy goes beyond more traditional advocacy efforts and become extraordinary when our GALs go above and beyond for the children and families they serve. The 4th Judicial District CASA Program’s longest case lasted for 3,253 days (8 years and 11 months). The child was in more than 10 different placements all over Idaho and had countless social workers during the life of their case. The only two people who were consistent throughout the whole case was the GAL and the pro bono attorney for the GAL. For more than 8 years, the GAL visited the child in every single placement and advocated for their best interest. Sometimes that advocacy was access to more educational support, medication management, or placement changes, and other times that advocacy was making sure that the child had something fun in their life and would make sure they had Pokémon cards or attending their school plays or team sports events. While there were many bumps along the road to permanency for this child, the GAL was there at every step of the way including on their adoption day where the child decided to take the GAL’s first name as their middle name when they officially changed their name.
A Place to Lay Their Head
Sometimes best interest advocacy is finding a bed for children to sleep in. A few years ago, one of our very new GALs (on their first case) noticed that the children they were working with were sleeping on a couch in their grandparent’s home. When asked why the children were sleeping on the couch, the grandparents shared that they didn’t have the money to buy a bed for the children and the couch was the best they could offer at the time, but there was also a concern that the children had begun wetting the bed and the couch was quickly becoming unusable. The GAL worked through all of the traditional channels available to them and then decided to think outside of the box. They reached out to Sleep in Heavenly Peace, a local volunteer organization that builds bunkbeds for children and families in need. Through their generous donation, Sleep in Heavenly Peace provided a bunkbed for the children and had it delivered within a few days. The GAL was also able to get new bedding and pajamas for the children through a gift card that was generously donated to Family Advocates. The GAL shared how excited the children (and their grandparents) were about the bed and new bedding and the children proudly showed the GAL each time they visited. When thanked by their Advocate Coordinator for the out of the box thinking, the GAL simply replied that they were just doing their job!
A Summer to Remember
This summer, we had a GAL inquire about bicycles for the two children on their case as it was summer break and they heard the children mention wanting bicycles of their very own. The GAL initially provided the foster parent with the information to register the children for a bicycle safety course that would provide bicycles at the end of the day, but time and distance became a barrier for the foster parent. The GAL was able to connect on their own with the Boise Bicycle Project who provided the children with bicycles, helmets, and bicycle locks. When the GAL delivered the bicycles, the children were so excited and didn’t want to come inside to talk to the GAL (which is completely understandable because bicycles are exciting)! Their parent expressed their appreciation to the GAL for going above and beyond for the bicycles for their children. The GAL shared with their Advocate Coordinator that the director of the bicycle giveaway program’s father is a Guardian ad Litem in another area, so they were familiar with the advocacy work of the GAL and were more than happy to help them help the children.
Celebrate with Cake
We’ve learned over the years that it truly takes a village when it comes to advocating for the best interest of children in our community. We are privileged to have the opportunity to work with many incredibly generous community organizations (often volunteer based) that allow us to expand our best interest advocacy to the children we serve. In 2021, we began a partnership with Cake4Kids, a volunteer-driven organization that works with amazing and compassionate groups of volunteers who donate all the ingredients and supplies to bake incredible cakes for the children and youth (in their own homes) and then deliver them to partner agencies such as ours who support children and youth. Through their generosity Cake4Kids volunteer bakers have provided more than 40 treats for the children that we serve including a cake to celebrate the adoption of the three foster children they had cared for, for more than a year.
The role and work of a GAL is incredibly important to provide best interest advocacy for foster in child protection cases. GALs make important recommendations to the court about visitation with their parents, educational needs, mental health services, medical/dental/vision needs, placement, and permanency recommendations including whether or not it is the child’s best interest to be reunified with their parents or if it is in the child’s best interest for guardianship or adoption with another family if reunification is not possible. As GALs provide this best interest advocacy, they also advocate for normalcy in a child’s life when they go above and beyond and advocate for Pokémon cards, bunkbeds, bicycles, cakes, and more! Our wonderful and fearless volunteers make it possible to advocate for the foster children in our community! This year, we are recruiting 75 new Guardians ad Litem and 20 pro bono attorneys. If you or someone you know would like to learn more about becoming a Guardian ad Litem or pro bono attorney and providing best interest advocacy for the children in our community, please reach out today!