BY JERÉ ANTHONY
You’ve got the heart, you’ve put in the hours, and have made every effort possible to advocate for your CASA children but you still feel worried that your court report isn’t going to reflect all of the work that you’ve done. Many Advocates struggle with being intimidated by the idea of writing a court report, and for good reason. This single document is a summary of what you have seen, heard, acted on, and ultimately your opinion of the best interest of the child.
Have you ever wondered if you did it right or if you said the right things in the right way? Lucky for you, court report writing is about to become a little bit easier. Here are the top ten ways to write a better court report:
BY JERÉ ANTHONY
What if I told you that you have full control over your life, would you believe me?
Studies show that you become most like the five people you surround yourself with. This means that your proximity to friends, family members and coworkers literally morphs your personality, which also means that you have the power to affect change in your own life by choosing wisely.
I find this information to be profound for many reasons, but for starters, I feel empowered to orchestrate my social settings and select my influencers according to who I want to become one day. This is such powerful piece of knowledge that affects my entire life and for the most part the work on the front end is minimal. As a CASA it is so important to maintain self-care and I believe that self-awareness can be a huge tool to help keep your fired up to do this work.
Before we start pulling out the sorting hat to categorize our friends and coworkers (Harry Potter reference anyone?), we need to be self-aware of the relationships in our lives and realize if they are really serving us. I have created a list of helpful questions to ask yourself to get the wheels turning.
What are your values? What is most important in your life? Our influencers should be people that embody our own values and/or respect the values that you have made a priority in your life. Many people believe different things and I am a firm believer that it takes all kinds of kinds in this world. The important thing is that you feel respected and supported in your values and beliefs.
Do you feel energized or drained after being around them? For quite some time I believed that I owed my friends something. I believed that I needed to be there for them when they needed me… but what happens when they always need you? I am talking about those life-sucking relationships where things are always one-sided, the one’s where you walk away from the conversation drained and the other person has a pep to their step. These relationships need to be examined often.
Do they inspire you to be better? Maybe this looks like a little bit of envy… not the bad kind, but they are doing things that you want to do and maybe they have things that you want to have. Aspiring to reach goals is normal, as long as comparison doesn’t become a regular feeling. Say it with me: Comparison is the death of joy. You cannot compare yourself to anyone in life because it will always be apples to oranges!
Do you feel pleasant after encountering them? This one may seem obvious, but I cannot tell you how many people follow friends/acquaintances/family members on social media and are annoyed by everything thing they post. If you are constantly annoyed by someone or just outright jealous… block them, unfollow them, do whatever you need to do because they are bringing you down and they don’t have to know you don’t want to see it! If the person annoys you, don’t seek them out… it really is that easy.
I understand that we can’t always choose who we have to interact with, but we do get to choose who we are close friends with and we also get to choose how we spend our free time. I’ve heard it said, “Invest in those who invest in you”, and I really feel like this phrase sums up who we should seek out in relationship. Relationships should be life-giving, that doesn’t mean it is always about rainbows and butterflies. Sometimes you are walking alongside someone is a hard season, but remember it is about give and take.
I hope that you choose life-giving people to surround yourselves with because at the end of the day, serving as a CASA can be depleting. The families that we serve don’t always pour back into us the way that we need. Self-care is such an important life skill and should be a priority in everyone’s lives.
Thank you for entering into a relationship with an abused and neglected child, we recognize the strength it takes to Just. Keep. Swimming.
BY JERÉ ANTHONY
When things are hard and you are faced with adversity, how do you decide what to do? Our basic instincts tell us to flee from uncomfortable situations, so does that mean we are crazy when we choose to stay?
This is a question that I have contemplated over the last few weeks. The simple truth is that dealing with the impact of an abused and neglected child is difficult, and often ugly. As someone that has no background in social work or therapy, I have found stories to be quite shocking at times. Some days I go home carrying a little more weight than I came with, so I started to wonder: If this is something that I struggle with, surely I am not alone?
CASA volunteers are unique to a case because they have an unbiased opinion; they come from all walks of life, which is really beneficial to our program. Looking at a situation with a fresh pair of eyes can often be pivotal in a case, and that is something that we celebrate. The flip side is that volunteers have no idea what they are walking into and their only defense mechanism is their undying love and their need to help in whatever way they can. In that way, we are one and the same.
To combat this heaviness on my heart I reached out to some of the wonderful coworkers that I get to call friends and asked for advice on coping with some of the difficult cases that I hear. They came up with a list that I think will really help anyone not used to carrying extra heartache around. Here are 5 tips from Emily Jones, Crisis Coordinator at the Center for Children and Families:
1. Find a trusted/ safe person you can vent to.
It is so important to be able to let your feelings out and not keep them bottled up. For you this person may be a spouse, coworker, best friend or even your CASA supervisor. Whoever he/she is, tell them what you are feeling, just remember to keep things confidential and not give any specifics about your cases.
2. Whatever ritual you have that calms you… Do it
For me this looks like classical music, a cup of coffee and a good book. Maybe for you it is a long walk, a bubble bath, or Netflix binge. Whatever it is, make sure to schedule time for it, self-care is important.
3. Stay ahead of it.
Sometimes things have a way of sneaking up on you suddenly. Be sure to prepare for this by actively seeking opportunities to pour into yourself before you really need it.
4. Educate yourself.
Pretending like bad things don’t happen will in no way help you to cope with hardships. In fact, hiding from the darkness will often only make things worse. In-service training is a great way to learn new things with trusted people.
5. Do something about it.
Emily Jones says, “The best way to cope is to get outside yourself and do something so that you can at least say, ‘I’ve played my part’”. As a CASA you are already taking great strides in this area.
I was relieved to hear this list and these things are very manageable. Like you, I have compassion for these children and a desire to do my part to help. I am continually amazed by the work that you all do day in and day out. If anything, you are motivators for me to lean on in hard times. When I would like nothing more than to run away to my office and close the door, to pretend that bad things really don’t happen to the those poor babies; I am encouraged by your bravery to CHOOSE to stay and fight.
Maybe we are crazy for choosing to help the innocent, but I sleep better at night knowing that these children have a fighting chance in this uncertain life because they have people like you standing next to them.
Kudos to you, CASA.
BY JERÉ ANTHONY
She looked into her mother’s broken eyes and repeated the phrase that she was forced to recite to her, “Nobody loves me as much as you do.” This was not the first time that her mother made her tell her things during her family visit, and it wouldn’t be the last.
For this 11 year old girl who has been in care for the last five years, along with her three siblings, this routine was all too familiar. Coming from a home full of dependency issues, which resulted in neglect, was not easy. Many times she found herself wondering during supervised visits if her mother would ever look at her the way she looked at her baby sister. She craved the same attention and love that she saw her mother give her siblings and couldn’t understand why during these rare moments where they were able to see each other, her mother spent the entire visit scolding and criticizing her.
Family visits were always volatile and her biological parents weren’t the most dependable when it came to showing up for the visits. One particularly sad occasion when the children were stood up, took place on the morning of their first day of school. They waited in the lobby of the visit for over 30 minutes holding on to the hope that maybe their parents were just running a bit behind, only to feel the sting of rejection once again.
Mrs. Christy Bailey, the children’s CASA, sat back and watched time and time again as the biological parents proved their inability to care for their children. In her court report she wrote, “She leaves visits feeling upset and if they don’t happen, she is equally upset that her family didn’t make time for her.”
Although Christy was that steady presence for her CASA children, she knew that they needed stability, they needed a home. Christy has been advocating for the children to be adopted for over two years. We are so happy to report that the two girls are currently placed with Foster Parents that are making a safe, permanent home a reality for them. On top of adopting the two girls, the Foster Parents are working to maintain their open home status so that the brothers can come and visit as often as they want.
Christy says, “Imagine coming from a life of chaos and neglect and finding yourself not just with a great mom and dad, but among a HUGE, loud, loving family of aunts, uncles, and cousins who treat you as if you have been there all along! That is what my two girls have now.”
We are so happy to hear of successes and hope that these children thrive in their new home. We know that they won’t take having parents that are truly present for granted, ever. We are so happy to have played a role in their stories and are so proud to have someone like Christy as a representative.
Thanks for not giving up as cases drag on, and thanks for showing up when you say you are going to, like Christy. You never know how much it is needed.
BY JERÉ ANTHONY
I believe that people are inherently good. I believe that, generally, most people want to help others in some capacity. I also believe that many people don’t think that they have the proper resources to make the leap to be a volunteer. I am privileged to work for a program that gives everyday citizens a platform to make a life changing impact in the lives of foster children. Not all volunteering looks the same, but for our program the same 5 qualities are true for every Advocate.
Reliable. Our Advocates show up when they say they are going to and for a child that has been moved around tirelessly, being able to rely on one person can make all of the difference. Our Advocates vow during their training to make face to face contact with their CASA child(ren) at least once and month and 99.9% of them actually do it.
Passionate. Volunteers seek out the CASA program for many different reasons. Some have personal stories of overcoming abuse and want to walk with a child through that season and others simply want to prevent abuse from occurring again by playing a role in the child’s story. Speaking up about the child’s placement will directly impact the child’s life no matter which way the ruling goes. No matter the motive, all of our Advocates are passionate about helping children find safe, permanent homes and doing so as quickly as possible because they know that foster care should never be a permanent situation.
Team Players. Advocates interact with key players in the child’s life and reach out to many different people to find resources for the child. Our Advocates do an amazing job of maintaining relationships with social workers and keeping the lines of communication open for all parties involved in the case. We have learned that when communication is strong, the process moves much smoother and our success in those relationships can directly be attributed to our Advocates.
Energetic. How many people do you know who set aside 8-10+ hours a month to do something for somebody else? Many of our Advocates work full time jobs and carve out the time from their personal lives each month. To say that these wonderful people are energetic is quite an understatement. They are making a choice to pour into someone else by giving their scarcest resource: their time.
Movers and Shakers. Our Advocates are the kind of people who are actually doing the work to make a difference. They aren’t sitting around thinking about ways to help or waiting for the right sign to come along to convict them… they all make a choice to start, which is always the first step in making a difference.
Our program only works if we have strong, selfless people like this who go out and do the work to help the abused and neglected children that we serve. We cannot do this work alone and are so grateful to have such dedicated volunteers as representatives in our community. I am proud to work for an organization that is fanning the flame of volunteerism and changing the way people see philanthropy. The truth is that anybody can do this work… but will you take the first step?
Our next volunteer training begins July 20. I encourage you to invite someone to attend. Call us today at 398-0945 and learn more.
BY JERÉ ANTHONY
One of my favorite things about the CASA program are the paydays. Since this program is driven by volunteers it may surprise you to hear the word payday, but my view is that paydays come when children overcome their time in the Foster Care system and are finally placed into their safe, permanent homes.
For a 9 year old little boy, the road has been long and hard. The child came into care when he was only 6 years old, along with 2 sisters. Their teachers reported the claim after the children repeatedly showed up for school dirty and hungry. As a result of the neglect, the children were removed from the home.
BY JERÉ ANTHONY
They are broken. They are dysfunctional. They are real. Their stories are inspiring and have shattered my preconceived ideas of what a family is supposed to look like. I have cried and sobbed and had to pick myself up while my husband confusingly asked me, “Are you going to be ok? You know this is just a show right?” The show that I am talking about is the show that everyone is talking about, This is Us. If you haven’t watched it, I’ll try not to ruin any surprises.
The show’s plot follows a family focusing on each member’s individual journey following them back and forth between their past and present. We are able to understand each character fully because viewers are constantly seeing flashbacks of each characters backstory. This technique is really brilliant and allows characters to develop more quickly and helps us to get to know what really makes them tick
BY JERÉ ANTHONY
To the person who has a heart to help, but lacks courage to take the first step… you are not alone.
The idea of becoming a Court Appointed Special Advocate can be overwhelming. As a volunteer you are suddenly playing a role in a child’s life, contributing to their life’s story. During their time in the foster care system, you will develop a relationship with them and speak up for their best interest in hopes to make this turbulent life that they have been born into, a little bit easier. The heaviness of that responsibility can be scary. In fact, many people give up before they can even take the first step.
BY JERÉ ANTHONY
Have you ever finished something that was harder than anything you’ve ever done in your life? Maybe you ran a marathon, graduated from college, or raised a child alone… you fill in the blank. We all have stuff that we are trying to accomplish, people we aspire to be like, and experiences we want to live out in life. All it takes is the courage to try, one intentional decision to put yourself out there and you may be surprised by what you were able to accomplish. We get to choose who we are in this life and we can be the heroes in our own stories.
I am always inspired when I hear stories about people who are living out their dreams. It is so easy to let go of dreams and goals because we will have to sacrifice something in order to attain it. I have recently realized that whatever it is that you are called to do, be it your destiny or your purpose, it isn’t supposed to be easy. In fact, many times it is the harder thing, the higher road. This realization was profound and changed my entire view on life.
Sarahann Temple, CASA volunteer for the 5th JDC, recently made a decision to make her dream a reality by enrolling in the United States Marine Corps. Sarahann served as a dedicated CASA for almost 2 years and has played a vital role in her CASA children’s wellbeing. Whether she was digging around for more information to help the Judge or just being supportive to all parties involved, her role is one that has been essential in paving the path to permanency for her CASA children. During her time as a CASA, Sarahann was able to aid in removing the children from an unsafe foster home and follow them in their transition to a safe placement.
On October 20, Sarahann stood up for her CASA children in court and spoke up for their best interest, just 3 days before leaving to become a United States Marine. We are so happy to report that Sarahann has graduated from boot camp and is living out her dream. Friends and family members alike are all so proud of her hard work and dedication in finishing what she set out to do. As an agency, we couldn’t be happier to have had someone like Sarahann as a representative.
This is just one example of the extraordinary character that it takes to be a volunteer. I am so proud to work for an agency that empowers everyday citizens to be heroes in the lives of children. The reality is that everyone that is involved in our program has success stories, everyone is already doing more than the average citizen by choosing to give their extra time to help someone other than themselves. My hope is that by reading this, you will feel spiritually fed and encouraged to test the waters in your own life. Everyone deserves to feel the triumph of accomplishing their dreams. We are capable of so much. Stop waiting for something easy to happen to you, instead lean into the uncomfortable situations and explore what is on the other side. When you reach your goal, we will be here to celebrate along side you.
BY JERÉ ANTHONY
It is a new year and you are now faced with a clean canvas to paint your next year of experiences. What will you choose to do with your blank slate?
As a self-proclaimed New Year’s Resolution Enthusiast, I would like to offer some suggestions as well as encouragement. I find that setting goals can be very motivating and leave the feeling of triumph, as slowly but surely things begin to be crossed off of your list. I also think there is power in speaking your goals and dreams out loud, or even better sharing with a trusted friend. This can create accountability and help motivate you when times get tough.
Here are a few of my suggestions to add your list of resolutions:
I hope you are inspired to take down some of the resolutions and feel empowered to take 2017 by storm. Remember you have already accomplished more than most people because you are volunteering your time and changing lives. That is certainly something to be proud of!