Contributed by Valerie Neumann, CASA Volunteer
As we all know, being a CASA is an endless rollercoaster: some days are very rewarding and others are frustrating. Sometimes we let “perfect” hinder us and make us feel worthless. Let me explain. Our CASA kids have been removed from their homes for a reason – they did not live a perfect life. Their parents or caregivers were not perfect, their homes, apartments or the streets were not perfect, the situations that adults put them in or let them see were not perfect. My struggle is that I want perfect for them! I want them to be in a loving home with two parents, plenty of food, access to medical care, a working vehicle, books to read, someone who checks their homework, takes them to the park, teaches them manners, and tucks them in at night. This was how I raised my children; this is a no-brainer, right? But, this is not the case for the majority of the kids who are in foster care. It is difficult to comprehend that the very people who are supposed to be taking care and protecting our foster children do not have the same expectations. I worry that these children will not learn how to be responsible adults, how to be in a long-term relationship, how to raise a family or to obey the law. I want the chain to be broken.
I was fortunate to be selected to attend the National CASA/GAL Annual Conference this month in Boston. Although we had to leave the conference early due to inclement weather, it was very inspirational to be around so many others who want to make a difference in the lives of foster children. The conference offered numerous workshops and based on your interests, you could attend as many as the day offered. The workshop that resonated with me the most was “Interviewing with the Brain’s Stress System in Mind”, which discussed how stress can actually change a child’s brain and behavior. The speaker gave an example of when a child gets hurt on the playground and their parent comforts them and tells them they will be okay. The brain remembers these non-stressful moments and in the face of future stresses, the child is able to calm him/herself. The good news is that as CASA volunteers we can help re-wire the brain by simply letting a child know that you look forward to seeing them again, how you will be thinking about them often until your next visit, how clever they are, how pretty they are or how proud you are of them. These positive interactions help teach the child’s brain to come back to these nice calming thoughts when they encounter a stressful situation. What an easy way to help a child relieve stress without them knowing it!
The most impactful moment of the conference for me was the presentation of a scholarship to a young lady who had been in foster care since she was five years old. She lived in an abusive foster home until she turned 18 where these people belittled her, threatened to send her “back”, had their biological children make fun of her, and who never loved or believed in her. This young lady left home at 18 years old and to this day has never had any more contact with her foster family, nor plans to anytime in the future. She graduated high school and wants to attend college. This young lady had a CASA. This young lady said without her CASA she would not be where she is today. Was her foster home perfect? No, but she did have someone who was there for her, who would listen, and made her feel special.
After hearing her story, I am coming to terms with the fact I can’t make everything perfect for my CASA kids, but they know I care for them, I am proud of them, and I believe in them. This just might be their “perfect”.