Almost ten years ago, Justin obtained legal guardianship of a surrogate family member, a 15-year-old boy who had just lost his mother to cancer, suffered from severe depression, struggled in school, and wanted to live with different relatives. Over the course of two years, through his interactions with this teenager’s guardian ad litem, Justin became “supremely impressed with that [attorney’s] ability to make a difference in that child’s life.” A decade later, Justin still marvels at how this advocate gave this young man a shot at a boundless life. Justin has spent nine years working as a CASA volunteer to provide those same opportunities for his CASA children, and he is hardly slowing down.
Justin is proud of the work he has done to advocate and help abused and neglected children. He has served 15 children in abuse and neglect cases, helping to move those children towards safer and more nurturing environments. In one case, he coordinated a medical case-management conference that helped dramatically reduce the high frequency of hospitalizations that the child had experienced. Through extensive research of his cases, he has been able to enrich the judge’s understanding of a child’s life.
The CASA program prioritizes a safe and permanent home for every foster child, but sometimes reunification with family is not in a child’s best interest. Justin recognizes the profound attachment children have to their birth parents, families and family origins, and tries to find “ways to honor” that connection in his cases. Still, even as he evaluates and addresses the risks associated with each placement option, Justin strives to ensure that the child’s wishes are included alongside any recommendations in the CASA report.
CASA children often experience profoundly traumatic events. With these realities in mind, Justin prioritizes developing strong relationships with his CASA children in order to understand the full scope of their environment, needs, and desires. Justin also tries to support children’s needs beyond the courtroom as much as he can, with hopes of creating opportunities for the children to dream big, regardless of their circumstances. He enjoys engaging with CASA children in activities that help explore and develop their sense of self, exposes them to new ideas, or allows them to escape the stress and, “just be a kid for a while.” Justin hopes that his interactions with his CASA children will give them a model for consistent and healthy relationships. From his perspective, advocacy for children includes showing them that, “we are always more alike than we are different, whether it seems like it or not,” and reminding them that they matter.
Consider visiting www.washoecasafoundation.comto find out more about the role of a CASA volunteer.
Written by Andrea Sharp, Washoe CASA Foundation Intern