Please support my mission of helping families who suffer from PTSD and moral injury…order my book, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story. Click and order paperback or download Kindle version. Buy my book at BarnesandNoble as well… Thank you!Steve Sparks, Author
“Every day in this country, 1,900 children become victims of abuse or neglect, and four of them will die. Every day. Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) for Children is a network of 933 community-based programs that recruit, train and support citizen-volunteers to advocate for the best interests of abused and neglected children in courtrooms and communities. Volunteer advocates—empowered directly by the courts—offer judges the critical information they need to ensure that each child’s rights and needs are being attended to while in foster care.
Volunteers stay with children until they are placed in loving permanent homes. For many abused children, a CASA volunteer is the only constant adult presence in their lives.”
Every day, across the USA, hundreds of kids — perhaps thousands, who can really say — suffer abuse or neglect at the hands of troubled parents. I, and many people like me (though not nearly enough people like me), work to right these wrongs. I’m a Volunteer Guardian ad Litem (VGAL).
Guardian ad Litem is a legal term meaning “guardian through the period of litigation”. The word Volunteer means we do it for free. In some venues we are known as a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates). Here’s what we do.
A child has come to the attention of the local welfare agency. Someone’s called them… Could be a teacher, doctor, family member, neighbor, concerned citizen or maybe a cop. The child welfare agency finds the child has been starved, beaten, psychologically tormented, or raped. They pull the child out of the home and a Dependency Action is initiated. The judge rules the child is dependent on the state and places the victimized youngster in a foster home, and that’s when we come in. The judge hearing the case appoints a VGAL to come before the court and advocate for the child’s best interests. The VGAL is often the only hope of safe and secure resolution for the children and families involved.
When you become a child’s VGAL, you’re in for the long haul. You’re on the case until the judge is satisfied and the dependency action is dismissed. This can be years. Sometimes these dependency cases are never dismissed, but when the child reaches eighteen the case becomes moot.
We’re busy-bodies. Armed with a charter from the court, we’re empowered to investigate all aspects of the case, and I mean all. We interview everyone we can find and dig deep into the whole squalid mess. No VGAL worth his salt leaves no stone unturned. Many times the VGAL uncovers a critical fact unnoticed or ignored by the official agencies, and this discovery turns the case.
When we’ve all the ducks in a row, we submit a report to the judge. In most cases, our recommendations are at variance with those of the parents, the family, their lawyers, the state agencies and their lawyers. Pleased to say, the judges realize we have the child’s best interests at heart and uses our recommendations as the core of the final ruling.
When you, as a VGAL or CASA, enter the case, you are empowered by the court, on your own and independent. You are the kid’s “paladin.” You are the one who ends the pain. You are the one who gives the child a new shot at life. You are often the only person who’s ever cared about the young child!
In my twenty-eight years as a VGAL, I’ve saved the lives of at least two kids, and the sanity of several more. I can tell you plainly that being a VGAL or CASA is a righteous act, one in which you can take great pride. In advocating a child’s best interests, you’ve truly pursued justice. And most often, you’ll have caught it. This is the payoff for challenging passionate work and a lot of “storm and stress.”
If you have a sense of justice and fair play, of mercy and basic human goodness, call your local juvenile court and step up to the plate. You’ll be a person of high integrity and honor walking on the side of the angels.
Thomas H. LaBelle Snohomish, Washington ***** My dear old pal, Tom LaBelle, friends for over 40 years, has been a CASA volunteer for at least 28 years and has never said a word to me about it. Tom works behind the scenes to save the lives of abused and neglected children. When Tom learned of my own passion for helping children and families who live in toxic homes, he reached out and offered to write the above heartwarming but painful post for my blog. The work of a CASA volunteer can be compared to a forensic detective searching for the truth. In my experience child abuse and neglect is often covered up so as to not expose the family to legal implications and scandal. I know from my own experience growing up in a post WWII and Korean War toxic home, that my parents were good at keeping the abuse a secret. As siblings we were co-conspirators in the cover-up. We were in fear all the time and scared of what would happen if we talked about what was going on in our home during the “too terrible to remember 50’s and early 60’s.” When we were finally able to leave home as young adults we tried to put all of the scary stuff from childhood behind us. As we soon discovered as adults, the emotional baggage affected all of us for a lifetime. We sucked it up mostly, but the symptoms of PTSD came back to haunt our lives in many ways. I was at the prime age of 64 before finally coming to terms with my past by researching and writing a non-fiction book, starting this blog as an on-going healing strategy, and speaking whenever possible at appropriate book signing events and forums. It is never too late to start the journey of healing. So many children do not have the opportunity to escape toxic home circumstances and learn to survive and thrive. I feel blessed today to finally have peace of mind in my life. As part of my own healing and for the benefit of helping others, it is a duty and pleasure for me to share the resources available for children and families to receive help. The CASA program is one such resource we need to learn more about and pass the word around the social media world to advance the cause of awareness. I am very lucky to know Tom LaBelle as a lifelong friend. I am also super proud of his work for so many years as a CASA volunteer. Tom, like many others who serve America in this legally and court empowered volunteer position, make the very best efforts to change the course of events for children living in unfortunate circumstances at home. CASA volunteers become very good at the work they do and are passionate in their efforts to save the lives of children who are at risk. Thank you, Tom LaBelle, for your long service as a CASA volunteer, and for your short story to post on this blog to help others become aware of the work of CASA for children. I also hope this message will inspire many other special adults who care about children to step up and volunteer for CASA… Making a difference for kids is the most rewarding and healing work of my own lifetime. It could be your legacy too… Steve Sparks Author Reconciliation: A Son’s Story click to order…