Going the Extra Mile for CASA
CASA volunteers (Guardians ad Litem/GALs) have the unique privilege of providing best-interest advocacy to the children they are appointed to serve. Our CASA Program has an incredible group of over 150 volunteer GALs (and 105 pro bono attorneys) who advocate for more than 450 children in child protection cases in our community today. These volunteers provide a consistent presence in the child’s life through monthly visitation and contacting all of the people in the children’s lives so they can make recommendations to the court that are in the child’s best interest. Each month, our GALs travel all over the Treasure Valley (in addition to other parts of the state) to visit with the children in their placements (with their parents, in general, or relative foster homes, or in treatment facilities to name a few), observe visitation with the children’s parents, visit the children’s schools or day care facilities, and more in the course of their volunteer work. Their advocacy provides additional information to the court that is solely focused on the children and what is in their best interests. Often, our CASA volunteers go the extra mile and advocate for the whole family, make recommendations for children to remain connected to their culture, provide them with opportunities to have normal childhood experiences, and meet children where they are.
Advocating for the Whole Family
As GALs provide best interest advocacy for the children they serve, they get to know not only the children, but the whole family as well. During the life of a case, GALs have the opportunity to meet all kinds of people important to the children from their parents to foster parents, to teachers, counselors, medical providers, and more. Not all of these relationships begin on a positive note, but over time, many of these relationships grow and change, especially with parents. While a GALs primary responsibility is to advocate for what’s in the best interest of the children they serve, sometimes that advocacy lends itself to going the extra mile and advocating for their parents as well! As GALs provide an independent report to the court, they check in with the children’s parents to see how they are doing and often make recommendations to the court for the parent to receive additional support or resources as well.
One of our GALs advocated for a child on the cusp of becoming a teenager with a parent struggling to maintain their sobriety. Over the course of the case, the GAL got to know the child and became a safe person to speak with in good times and bad. No matter what the child said or how the child behaved, their GAL continued to work with them and consistently showed up for them in every placement. While the GALs relationship with the parent was initially strained, over time it changed as the parent no longer saw the GAL as an adversary, but rather as a resource toward reunification with their child. When the parent relapsed, they reached out to the GAL for recommendations for resources because they had built a strong working relationship with one another. As the parent worked on their sobriety, they called the GAL and gave them updates on their progress which the GAL was able to report to the court. Because of the improved relationship, the GAL was able to successfully advocate for the child to return home to their parent’s custody. As issues came up in the home, the parent successfully demonstrated their protective capacities for their child and was able to not only access concrete resources in times of need but was also able to advocate for their child to receive additional support.
Best Interest Advocacy through a Connection to Culture
As GALs provide best interest advocacy for the children they are assigned to, they report to the court about progress on parental visitation, how the children are doing in school, report any medical, dental, or vision changes or issues, report on services including counseling and other therapies, as well as how they are doing in their current placement whether back at home with their parents or in a general or relative foster home in their reports to the court. In addition to this advocacy, GALs go the extra mile to advocate for children to remain connected to their family, cultural, and religious traditions. To do this, many GALs take time to do extra research on the child’s culture and work with other connected people to the child and their community to better understand how to advocate for them to culturally celebrate religious traditions, be mindful of customs and practices for working with the child and their family, and work with the Department to provide additional considerations and resources when working with them.
Connecting with Community Partners to Send Children to Camp
All children are entitled to have as normal a childhood as possible, especially children in foster care. GAL volunteers routinely go the extra mile to ensure that every opportunity possible is extended to the children they work with from celebrating birthdays, holidays, family and religious traditions, to access to extracurricular activities, and more. Recently, one of our GALs went the extra mile to connect CASA and the children that we serve with the YMCA to send up to 16 of the children we work with to the summer camp this year. One of our GALs was a part of Leadership Boise and had the opportunity to go on a retreat at the YMCA and met with the program director of one of the camps. They asked the program director if foster children come to camp, and the program director replied that foster children attend occasionally. The GAL then explained about their volunteer role advocating for foster children and because of the GAL and the generosity of the YMCA, a new partnership was born! Because the GAL went the extra mile in their work outside of CASA, CASA now has an incredible opportunity to work with the YMCA to provide the children CASA works with the ability to go to camp.
Literally Going the Extra Mile
Unfortunately, there are times and circumstances when siblings are not placed together in the same foster home. When situations like this arise, GALs often go the extra mile to advocate for the children they are appointed to, which can mean everything from additional monthly visitation, to case coordination with multiple providers, teachers, etc., making additional recommendations specific to one child, and driving hundreds if not thousands of miles during the life of a case. With two siblings placed in the Treasure Valley and the third placed on the other side of the state, their GAL has literally gone the extra mile to provide a consistent presence in each of the children’s lives. In fact, the GAL has gone 3,703 extra miles to ensure that the sibling placed outside of the Treasure Valley has a consistent champion with extra visits on their birthday, during the holidays, and just because.
Our CASA volunteers go the extra mile for the children they serve each and every day as they provide best interest advocacy and also when they advocate for the whole family, for children to remain connected to their culture while in foster care, for children to have the opportunity to attend summer camp, and for GALs literally going an extra 3,703 miles. We are so thankful for their hard work and dedication to our mission to provide best interest advocacy for abused, abandoned, and neglected foster children in our community. Each year, our CASA volunteers (GALs and pro bono attorneys) donate thousands of hours of advocacy and representation and drive tens of thousands of miles in their pursuit. In our current fiscal year, our CASA volunteers have donated 7,824 hours and have driven more than 38,584 miles for the 450 children we serve. If you or someone you know would like to go the extra mile and serve children in our community, please reach out today to learn more about becoming a Guardian ad Litem or a pro bono attorney!