Friday, July 19, 2024

Fostering Hope: Court Appointed Special Advocates Volunteers Making A Difference

March 25, 2024 by  
Filed under Community

By Dr. Lisa Morris-Hibbler

Dr. Lisa Morris-Hibbler

In a world where hardships are commonplace, one of the most tragic facts is the existence of kids who wind up in the foster care system. These young people are already dealing with difficulties that most adults would find incomprehensible, and now they have to endure the turbulent trip through the unknowns of foster care. The Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) volunteers are a beacon of love and hope in these turbulent waters, giving children the precious gift of quality time and, most importantly, an opportunity for a better future. CASA volunteers have professional careers such as teachers, nurses, lawyers, realtors, business and government leaders, and retirees. 

In Clark County, there are more than 3,000 children placed in foster care due to circumstances beyond their control. These children struggle with the uncertainties of their future while carrying the emotional scars of their past — be it abuse, neglect, or other unfavorable circumstances. For them, the presence of a CASA volunteer, like me, is frequently the first sign of stability in an unstable environment. The Eighth Judicial Court- CASA Program has 400 volunteers that represent nearly 1,000 children annually. The goal, of course, is to have enough CASA volunteers to ensure that every child can be assigned an advocate. 

CASA volunteers have a real impact on the lives of the children they serve. Studies have shown that children with CASA volunteers are more likely to be reunified with their families and placed in permanent homes sooner.

A Glimpse into the Lives of Foster Children 

Before I share my story, it is important to understand the difficulties and complexities that foster children face. These kids are frequently exposed to terrible events and are suddenly thrown into an unknown and frightening world. They could feel abandoned and lost since they are cut off from their homes, family, and everything they once knew. Their emotional and psychological well-being may be seriously impacted by the emotional turmoil and instability they experience. 

Many foster children are shuffled from one placement to another, which disrupts any sense of consistency in their lives. It is not uncommon for these children to change schools frequently, making it difficult for them to form meaningful relationships with peers or teachers. This lack of stability can have a lasting impact on their educational and emotional development. 

Moreover, the foster care system itself can be a daunting labyrinth of bureaucracy and legal proceedings. For a child, navigating this system can be overwhelming and confusing. This is where the CASA volunteers come in, offering a steady hand, consistent presence, and a caring heart to guide these children through the challenges they face.

Case Assignments: My Experience as a CASA Volunteer 

Upon finishing my CASA volunteer training, I was immediately assigned a case. My nerves started setting in as I thought about the first meeting. Would the children accept me, would they want to meet yet another stranger? Our training prepared us for this day — but now, I would be put to the test. When I accepted my first case as a CASA volunteer, I was assigned an African-American sibling group of three. They had been placed with a family member. I was so glad the children were able to stay together and keep their bond intact. So often, siblings are separated when a suitable placement cannot be readily identified. As their CASA advocate, I was determined to provide the consistency and support they so desperately needed. 

Our first meeting began with snacks and a conversation. I learned about their favorite hobbies, their dreams, and fears. We spent time doing homework, going to fun activities, playing sports, video games, and eating at various restaurants. Through these seemingly ordinary moments, I began to see beautiful personalities flourish and bright smiles emerge. 

Over time, I saw the positive impact that my consistent presence had on this family’s life. They began to open up, sharing their thoughts and feelings more freely. Their confidence grew, and they started to believe in their own potential. I attended school meetings and academic conferences to ensure the children were on track and accessing the resources they needed. By the time the case was closed and their relative became their legal guardian, the children were in a stable and loving home, involved in extracurricular activities, and academically doing well. 

Two years later, I was assigned to my second case advocating for an African American sibling group of four. The children are not Nevada residents and I am working with Family Services to get them reunited with family in another state. Weekly, I make visits to Child Haven to check on the children. Child Haven is a specialized campus that provides congregate care to children who are placed in protective custody or awaiting placement and keep siblings together. 

Serving as a CASA volunteer is undoubtedly rewarding, it is not without its challenges. There were moments when I felt frustrated by the complexities of the foster care system, the education system hurdles, and the heart-wrenching stories of the children I encountered. However, these challenges only fueled my determination to advocate for the best interests of my CASA kids. 

My personal experience as a CASA volunteer has been a profound and life-changing one. I have learned that with dedication, empathy, and unwavering support, we can be the catalyst for positive change in the lives of these vulnerable children. The smiles, the moments of laughter, and the remarkable resilience I’ve witnessed in the children I have served have been my greatest rewards. Every day, I am reminded of the importance of having a consistent, caring adult in the life of a foster child. I have seen firsthand how being that one significant person can make all the difference, offering hope, support, and the promise of a better future.

Speak Your Mind

Tell us what you're thinking...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!

Comment moderation is in use. Please do not submit your comment twice -- it will appear shortly.