How do you know if you’re the right fit for a tough assignment? One sure sign: You keep on doing it.
That’s what happened with Jean Carr-Andrews.
She has been standing up for Clark County children and families as a volunteer with Court Appointed Special Advocates–CASA–for more than a decade. Being a CASA is a demanding volunteer job. In many ways, it is unlike any other. But if the challenges are great, the rewards, say Carr-Andrews and other Clark County CASAs, are far greater.
Carr-Andrews has had a lifelong love for children, and for seeing them flourish. But it wasn’t until she became a volunteer with CASA that she could take that love and turn it into advocacy. That’s when she knew she had found her community service destiny.
“We are the only ones in the system who have the chance to see the entire environment in which the child is living,” Carr-Andrews says. “And we have to make sure they are being served properly. If they are not thriving, what can we do to turn things around for this child, this family, in our community?”
Carr-Andrews was looking for a way to directly work with families and children when a friend mentioned CASA was seeking volunteers. A CASA plays a unique role in the child custody system, she learned. No other person is dedicated solely to advocating on behalf of a child who has been removed from a home. A CASA volunteer is quite often the most consistent adult in the child’s life during their time in care.
Reunification with a birth parent is always the initial goal. “But not every case ends in reunification. You have to serve the child’s best interest. And that may be another living situation.”
Social workers, court officials, and the CASA consider all factors before the court makes the final decisions. Carr-Andrews just closed out a long-running case in which three children had to be removed from their mother’s home. In the end, two older children remained with a foster family that adopted them. A younger sibling stayed with the mother. “She had made significant progress during the course of this case,” she says. “We all felt the youngest would do well in her care.”
That case wound up just as CASAs were being called upon to change how they stay connected with the families in their charge. As the coronavirus forced more people to isolate themselves, CASA staff worked with Carr-Andrews and other CASA volunteers to replace face-to-face meetings with other forms of communication.
Carr-Andrews said it was an adjustment, but she believes the families remain well connected to their CASAs. “There are so many ways to stay in touch today that we make sure no one falls through the cracks.”
The CASA program is seeking to add to its volunteer base this year. Despite the coronavirus restrictions, the program continues to recruit volunteers and get them ready for their assignments.
The role of a CASA is not taken lightly. CASAs are an official part of the judicial system. They have specific responsibilities and are expected to offer fact-based opinions on what is in the best interest of the child. Tanisha Harris, CASA Program Specialist, has observed Carr-Andrews work many miracles with distressed families. Carr-Andrews, who is African American, partners well with families of color, Harris said.
“She has created a strong bond with the families of color, many of whom distrust or don’t understand government policies and rules. She can creassure them because she comes from a similar background.”
Here’s how Carr-Andrews says you can tell if CASA is right for you. You must:
1. Have a passion for children.
2. Be a listener.
3. Have an awareness of what the child needs.
4. Have an idea of what
the parent or parents need.
5. Be organized around paperwork.
Learn more at casaclarkcounty.org