One volunteer shares the key moments of her first year as a CASA, reflecting on the training process, selecting her first case and how incredibly rewarding the experience has been.

 

Heather Varela first heard about volunteering as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) through Voices for CASA children in a radio ad while she was driving more than a decade ago. It wasn’t until her children got a little older and she started working from home that she applied. Now with two cases and a year and a half under her belt, Varela reflects on her first year as a CASA volunteer and how incredibly rewarding the experience has been.

On the Application Process …

“I applied to be a CASA volunteer in fall 2016. I submitted my application, and from there you go through an interview process with a CASA project manager. After that, you take a lie detector test. It’s just part of the process and not a big deal. They just want to ensure all of the statements you made on your application are accurate, so they can protect the kids.”

On the Training …

“Once you are fully vetted as a CASA volunteer, then you start a 30-hour training class. The training was amazing. We had training on everything from psychology of kids at different ages to how the court system works to how DCS [Department of Child Safety] functions. Pretty much every component of this system was represented. We were also given instruction on the practical nuts and bolts information of how to do the job.”

On Selecting Her First Case …

“After we completed the training, we were sworn in as officers of the court and were allowed to select our first case. There are a number of cases to choose from, because there are always children in need of a CASA.

“In the first case I selected, there were four children. Three of them were placed with a family and one was placed in a group home. It just broke my heart, and I wanted to help.”

On Meeting Her CASA Child for the First Time …

“My first interaction was with the child who was in the group home. He’s kind of a quiet guy, so I just sat down and told him a little bit about who I was and why I was there. We then talked about what was going on with him, how long he’d been at his group home. He had not been successful at some other group homes, and so we talked a little bit about why, and really just spent about an hour getting to know each other.”

On Working a Case …

“After that, the rest of the first year is really just about working your case. There’s a whole team of people that work on these cases alongside you — the DCS case manager, the guardian ad litem and the counselor. In some ways you kind of become the project manager for the team. You are the one to shepherd the process along and make sure that meetings are happening and that anything you observe going on with the child is being addressed with the appropriate services. Sometimes it’s as simple as arranging transportation [for the child] to a counseling appointment.

“And then, as the eyes and ears of the court, we provide a report to the judge and actually speak in court about every six months summarizing what’s happening with our child and making recommendations for things that we think would be helpful for him or her.”

On being a CASA One Year Later …

“It’s really rewarding. I absolutely love it, and I enjoy spending time with the kids. I enjoy seeing them grow and develop. Some of the kids I’ve worked with have had major turnarounds. If there’s a way that I can help even one child feel not so lost, then it’s worth it.”

Would you like to learn more directly from out volunteers? Read this Q&A with a veteran CASA.

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