My wife and I were enjoying our comfortable suburban life; happy marriage, rewarding career, three children, strong church community…and absolutely no idea how many children were living in out-of-home foster care as a result of abuse, abandonment and neglect.
As we like to say at America’s Kids Belong, once you learn to see the more than 400,000 kids in our foster care system, you can’t unsee them again. And while we can’t all foster or adopt, we all can do something.
What Do CASA Volunteers Do?
One way my wife Tammie and I decided to serve was by becoming CASA volunteers, also known in some states as a guardian ad litem (GAL). CASA stands for “court appointed special advocate.” CASA volunteers invest 12 to 15 hours a month for the duration of the case to which they are assigned.
We were privileged to stand in the gap with one or two kids at a time. We learned their stories, let them know they were seen and valued, and did our best to ensure that their voices and best interests were represented in legal proceedings, with social services, as well as with parents, educators and other caregivers.
In most cases we also got to know their parents. The longer we walked with them, the more we appreciated their challenges in striving to get their lives back on track and their families back together.
As we leaned in we learned that the birth families in these cases needed love and support to promote healing. The kids who had experienced abuse and neglect need safe, loving places where they can belong.
And we (my wife and I) knew we needed to be involved. It wrecked us. But it permanently changed us.
Do CASA Volunteers Make a Difference?
Our eyes were opened to a darker side of our city–one that broke our hearts with how many families were struggling. These tough stories of hurting people drew us in and deepened our commitment to love the people of our city – all of them.
Often a CASA representative is one consistent, long-standing relationship in the life of a child embroiled in the most traumatic season of his or her young life.
In a few cases, the outcomes were beautiful. Other times, they were undeniably hard. Regardless, by walking alongside kids and families in crisis increased our capacity and intentionality for seeing and loving vulnerable kids and struggling families.
We admire the families and social workers who have devoted their lives to serving kids in the foster care system.
To learn more about becoming a CASA, check with your local CASA or child welfare office to attend an informational meeting. (Search “become a CASA representative in [your state] to get started.)
Larry May and his wife, Tammie are parents to three children, including Diana, whom they adopted in 2010 at age 6. (pictured here).
Larry is a retired business owner and currently serves a leader with Indiana Kids Belong.