ALWAYS on their side

I have been volunteering as a New Hampshire court appointed special advocate, guardian ad litem since 2013. CASA of New Hampshire is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to ensure that abused and neglected children in New Hampshire have a voice in the court system and that their best interests are represented. In 2018: 573 volunteers gave 80,196 hours in service to a total of 867 cases. Providing 1411 New Hampshire children with advocates. That’s 1,400 kids whose lives have been turned upside down by abuse or neglect in New Hampshire in one year.

As a long-time Telegraph subscriber; I had read many articles about CASA over the years. Each time I had a little passing thought that “just maybe” this would be a fit for me. My kids are adults and I have a full-time job. I met and interviewed with the CASA staff and quickly found that we were a match. I accept cases being heard in my local District Court and with children placed locally. Details of my case are always confidential, but my boss and co-workers are aware of the importance of the work and are super accommodating when I say: “going to see my kids”.

To become a CASA GAL, I went through 40 hours of training, spread out over several weeks that taught my classmates and I about the New Hampshire court system, court report writing, childhood development, issues/scenarios I may encounter with children and their families and ways to handle them. A CASA typically has one case assigned to them and commits for the life of the case, usually around 1-2 years, until a resolution of permanency for the child.

I am expected to meet with my child at least once a month. I also meet all the people in my child’s life, including teachers, relatives, parents, foster parents, medical and mental health professionals. I speak often with the DCYF Family Service Worker. I spend around 10-12 hours a month on my case.

The reasons why a child has come to the attention of DCYF and the court vary. Many young parents are struggling with addiction or serious mental health issues. Children of all ages are victims of parents who are unable to properly care for them. And although reunification with a parent is the permanency goal in each case; sometimes the child’s best interest lies in other directions, including adoption.

I have been a sounding board for a newly custodial dad, an ear for a potential adoptive parent, a “squeaky wheel” for a toddler needing tubes in her ears. I have prepared a young teen to meet with the judge to make her wishes known. This is all part of advocating for a child’s “best interests”. The work is challenging and more rewarding than you expect.

The children that we work with are experiencing rough times and need someone who cares, is willing to help navigate the system and all the things that are going on around them. The parent’s have attorneys. The child has their CASA.

The stated goal of CASA is protecting every abused or neglected child’s right to grow up in the embrace of a loving family. Sometimes they just need someone who is ALWAYS on their side.

You could be that person. … Think about it. Seriously, think about it.

New CASA GAL training in Nashua begins in late January. To learn more about how you can become a CASA visit www.casanh.org. Have specific questions? Call 800-626-0622 or email speakup@casanh.org.