As an engineer who enjoys spending his days planning, organizing, scheduling and connecting people around one goal or project, Pete King says his work life blends easily with role as a CASA volunteer.
It’s a volunteer opportunity he heard about 20 years ago, but with young children and a full-time career, it wasn’t the right time. As an empty-nester 15 years later, a TV PSA for CASA prompted him to do some more research and apply to the program.
“I had a lot more free time on my hands, and was looking to keep busy while giving back to others who may be less fortunate than me,” he says.
In May, Pete will celebrate his fifth anniversary as a CASA. He has served 19 kids from 11 families in that time, and is always ready to start a new case when another is about to close.
Pete says this role has been a wonderful complement to skills he’s developed through his career. His cases are like his projects – he collects information and disseminates it, he works collaboratively with the child’s family, caseworkers and other professionals, he helps keep people organized and on task and then he writes reports that include the facts and information he’s collected and shares his opinion with the judge about what’s in the child’s best interests.
“There are so many things I’ve found I am good at as a CASA,” Pete says. “But there are a few areas where I was inexperienced..”
For example, understanding social sciences aspect of being a CASA was very new to him, but he’s had access to training beyond the initial 40-hours that prepares you for the role and has taken numerous classes available to CASAs through Granite State College to help him learn.
Those classes have helped him improve in building a rapport with children and the parents on his cases and in turn, have helped him to become a better problem solver at work.
As a CASA, he recognizes how important it is for children to remain with or reunify with their families as long as the conditions that initiated the case were addressed and the child would be safe. In fact, he always has very high expectations for reunification and works hard with each parent, and admits feeling let down when a parent is unable to achieve the necessary steps to retain custody of their children. He’s seen it most strikingly in parents who’ve been opioid involved and cannot free themselves from the powerful grasp of addiction, despite their love for their kids.
“My goal is really to give the kids a better life,” Pete says. “That might be my biggest disappointment, when parents can’t turn things around and the child can’t go home. I take comfort in knowing that every child was in a better place at the conclusion of the case, be it reunification with parents who were able to turn their life around or adoption by relatives or a new forever family. ”
Fitting CASA in around a career
As a CASA, it’s Pete’s job to get to know the child or children at the center of the case he has been assigned. He meets with them at least once a month (something that has been done virtually or socially distanced since last March) and collects information from the adults in their lives so he can paint a picture of the child’s life for a judge overseeing the case in family court.
He spends about 12 hours a month on each case he is on, which he says is plenty of time to do some research, attend trainings or support groups, meet with kids and families, and write his quarterly reports and attend court, where he presents his recommendations in-person.
“It has refocused how I get my work done,” Pete says of fitting it in around his job. “I like to work, I like to be busy and if it weren’t for CASA, I would just work a lot of extra hours.”
Pete says overall, he has a fairly flexible schedule, but he still has clients, meetings and deadlines to adhere to. With the exception of the first court hearing when a case is presented to the court, each subsequent hearing is scheduled in advance with the parties present to ensure it fits everyone’s schedules.
“That’s a hard date that goes on my calendar,” Pete says.
Being a CASA during COVID
What Pete couldn’t have predicted 5 years ago, was how things would change in the face of a worldwide pandemic. It’s been a challenge, he says, and he misses seeing his CASA kids in person and as frequently as he used to.
For Pete’s current cases, he has a teenager and younger children, none of whom really have the patience or attention span to spend a lot of time on Zoom. So, his virtual time with them is brief but he relies on input from teachers and daycare providers who observe the children daily. He’s looking forward to being able to see them in-person again as the weather warms up.
Meanwhile, it has created some efficiencies in other areas. Zoom support groups and virtual trainings are easier to attend and not having to travel to meet with people or attend court is a time-saver, he says.
Getting involved with CASA
Pete says he’s very appreciative of his company, Geosyntec Consultants’ support of his volunteer work with CASA. Geosyntec recognizes the corporate responsibility for giving back whether it is volunteering in local food pantries or designing vital water supplies for African refugee camps. Although most of the CASA volunteering, such as report writing or child visits can be done in evenings or on weekends, there are occasional court hearings or meetings that require scheduling during the workday. They encourage community involvement and have been flexible with time he needs to take off to attend court hearings or meetings.
“They have been amazingly supportive. I would say they go above and beyond supporting employees with interests like this,” Pete says.
He says he appreciates that his firm and many other companies recognize the importance of providing time to volunteer. He thinks it’s a great way to retain employees, help them achieve more work life balance and understand better what their own goals are.
“Our firm, and others, recognize that there are so many things you can to do help employees remain engaged both inside and outside of work and it leads to companies retaining their employees.”