Community Blog Series: CASA of Kent County
I feel very strongly about the idea of community – that personal growth comes from giving back to the world around you. I spend a lot of time serving on boards and committees in the area and while I am proud of what I am able to give to these organizations, what I get back from doing this work is tenfold. I’d like to spend the next few weeks highlighting some of these groups and the work that they do. I know this is a bit different than the legal information I generally use this blog to share, but I truly believe it is no less important. I hope learning about some of these groups inspires you to go out and volunteer for a mission you’re passionate about.
CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates for children. I could try to explain what CASA does in my own words, but their website says it perfectly. “CASA of Kent County is a non-profit organization that looks out for the best interests of abused and neglected children as they make their way through the family court system. We do this by training volunteers to investigate, facilitate, advocate and monitor services for children who are wards of the court due to abuse and/or neglect. CASA volunteers present first-hand information and observations to help judges make the very best decisions about children’s futures. No other organization does what we do in Kent County—so when you support CASA, you are providing what may be the only opportunity for these children to overcome their family traumas and build a new life.”
I first heard about CASA when I started practicing family law in Kent County. Over the years, I became interested in learning more about their mission and how they help children who find themselves in the system. In early 2015, I met with the President of their Board of Directors and asked what I could do to help and that decision has been one of the most rewarding of my career.
Not only does CASA train members of the community to become advocates, but they also spend a significant amount of time each year planning events for the children that they can enjoy with each other. My first CASA Thanksgiving will forever be a turning point for me - the night where I realized just how thankful I am for everything that I have. Thanksgiving dinner is an event CASA puts on for children in family groups who are split up from each other. In some circumstances, these siblings rarely have the opportunity to see or spend time with each other since they were removed from their home. The joy I witnessed as these kids came together to share a holiday meal with their brothers and sisters honestly brought me to tears and it was in that moment that I realized what CASA can do for some of these kids who may otherwise feel left behind.
It costs CASA of Kent County $1,250 per year to advocate for one abused or neglected child. CASA relies on its partnerships and volunteers to help make this possible. While financial donations are always welcome, there are so many ways that someone can contribute to CASA’s mission. If you have time to give, training as an advocate or volunteering on one of their committees is always a great place to start. If instead you’re looking to contribute from your wallet, monetary donations, as well as clothing, shoes, school supplies, Christmas gifts, toys and activities can always be of use.
I’m going to end this post with one of the Success Stories posted on CASA’s website and urge everyone reading this to learn more about this organization and what you can do for them.
The six Randall siblings, young children who were removed from their mother’s care due to abuse and neglect, were eventually placed with the Morgan family. The Morgan’s home included two adult biological children and a total of 13 children adopted from foster care. The Morgans’ local community had named them “Adoptive Parents of the Year” for their willingness to provide a home for foster children. It would be years before a teacher learned that the adopted children were being sexually abused, tortured, and starved while in the Morgans’ care.
The Randall children were assigned their CASA, Kate, during the month-long jury trial that ensued against the Morgans, who eventually relinquished their rights to the adopted children. The four youngest siblings were sent to different adoptive homes, severing their ties to one another. Marcus and Shawna, ages 10 and 8, were sent to residential care.
Kate would spend the next decade of her life and then some advocating for the needs of Marcus and Shawna, far outlasting her assignment as their official CASA. Kate would ensure that the Randall siblings saw one another, giving them some measure of consistency in their young lives. Kate took Shawna shopping for her prom dress and found her a voice coach when Shawna shared her dream of becoming a singer. She advocated for Marcus to be treated as a child, not a criminal, while he was in residential care. It was Kate who provided comfort and patience to Shawna and Marcus when they asked her why no one would adopt them when all they ever wished for was a loving family.
When Kate took this assignment, she never imagined the Randall children would become such an important part of her life. Kate says her only regret is that CASA wasn’t assigned to these children long before they ever reached the Morgans’ home.