One Network, Many Voices: 2016 National CASA/GAL Conference
Photo via casaforchildren.org
Recently, I attended the CASA/GAL Conference in Washington DC with another member of the BoardShare team. For those of you who may not be familiar with this organization, CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates. When a child is removed from their home due to abuse or neglect, a judge can appoint a CASA volunteer to advocate for the child and represent his or her best interests. According to the CASA website, since being founded in Seattle in 1977, “more than 76,000 CASA and guardian ad litem (GAL) volunteers helped more than 251,000 abused and neglected children find safe, permanent homes.” Volunteers must go through a training process through their local CASA/GAL program.
Over 600,000 children pass through the U.S. foster care and family court system annually, and on average, these children will change homes three times. CASA/GAL volunteers can have a tremendous impact on children in the foster care system. A child with a CASA/GAL is more likely to have a safe and permanent home, half as likely to re-enter the foster care system, more likely to succeed in school, and less likely to spend three or more years in foster care.
I became acquainted with CASA two years ago and was immediately impressed with the passion and dedication from the organization’s volunteers and staff. I underwent the required training, and was appointed to my first case. Many volunteers are appointed cases where the child or children experience unspeakable physical, emotional, or sexual abuse at the hands of their caretakers. This can take an emotional toll on the volunteers, but their desire to be a voice for these children is what keeps them going.
Having donated some BoardShare units to CASA that they could use during the training process, a staff member from Chicago CASA thanked me by sending an invite to the CASA/GAL Conference. It was an incredible and emotional weekend. I met CASA/GAL staff and volunteers from across the country, and got to know more about their specific CASA locations.
I was also able to listen to a number of fantastic speakers, including Ashley Rhodes-Courter, author of Three Little Words; Wes Moore, author of The Other Wes Moore; and John Quiñones, host of What Would You Do?
During Wes Moore’s speech, he discussed a conversation he had with an acquaintance from Valley Forge Military Academy. He asked Wes, “At the end of your life, what will be the answer to the question ‘who did you fight for?’” Wes also shared how important it was for him, and how crucial it is for all children, to have someone believe in and fight for him.
I realized how many people I witness every day fighting for children. Whether they area CASA/GAL volunteers that help children in foster care, or educators trying to provide quality education to all students, they are all providing a voice for children who so often go unheard.
Learn more about becoming a CASA volunteer: http://www.casaforchildren.org/site/c.mtJSJ7MPIsE/b.5301309/k.9D58/Volunteering.htm