This summer, Lakes Region real estate agent Shawn Bailey will celebrate his 15th year volunteering with Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA, of New Hampshire. The circumstances that trigger the need for CASA volunteers, child abuse and neglect, are certainly not happy ones; but when you look at Shawn’s work, you’ll discover that there’s also much to celebrate.
When a case opens, it is because a child has suffered or been endangered due to their parents’ actions or struggles. What these children have endured is often heartbreaking, and sometimes unimaginable. But the point where a CASA is assigned to them is the time when things can begin to get better. With the right support and resources families can work toward reunifying stronger than they were before. If this isn’t possible, a path to adoption or another permanency option can be laid, often with a family the child has been with for a while and who they know and trust.
During Shawn’s time as a CASA, he has served 21 children from 15 families. He has seen stories of hope play out. Stories that he helped write. Stories that are cause for celebration.
Two in particular stand out to Shawn. “I had a case with a toddler,” he says. “The parents were fairly non-compliant with what the court asked of them, until the father went to prison. At that point, mom turned things around. She completed a drug treatment program, was able to reunify with the child, and they are still doing fantastic. I get to see her out and about from time to time and she’s a sweetheart — she’s a really good person. She’s a totally different person than I knew when she was using substances. In some of the cases the parents succeed, and that’s a great thing.”
The second case began when a woman experiencing abdominal pain went to the hospital. It turned out she was in labor — she hadn’t even known she was pregnant. The mother had been using substances for about five years. “Mom went right into a program when she got out of the hospital, and is now sober. She still has a way to go,” Shawn says, “but we’re hopeful.”
For Shawn and many other CASAs, the most meaningful part of a case comes at the one-year mark with the judge’s permanency decision. “In my experience, the children are very happy that they’re either reunifying or they’re going to be adopted. Permanency is a very happy time,” Shawn says.
If the walls of the CASA office could suddenly speak, permanency might be their first word. The Juvenile Law Center describes it this way: “Simply put, ‘permanency’ means family. It means having positive, healthy, nurturing relationships with adults who provide emotional, financial, moral, educational, and other kinds of support as youth mature into adults. Ideally, permanency takes the form of a relationship that has a legal component that provides a parent-child relationship. [It’s having a] family and support system that both lifts [the child] up and cushions them if they fall.”
Ultimately, this is what Shawn and other CASA volunteers are working toward — a permanent home where their case children can thrive. It’s work that Shawn finds incredibly satisfying. “It’s rewarding to get to know the children and help them through the hard times they’re going through. It’s amazing to see how resilient they are. Boy, if someone loves them and gives them some structure and stability, they latch right onto that, because they really have been ‘set aside,’ so to speak, because their parents are in trouble. We strive for a positive outcome for the child.” With his perseverance and dedication, Shawn has helped bring about many positive outcomes for children.
Shawn has found that his role as a CASA fits in well with his work as a real estate agent. CASAs dedicate about 10–15 hours a month to their volunteer work. This includes time spent meeting with their case child, talking with parents and other important adults in the child’s life, and presenting the vital information they gather in a written court report. Four to five times a year the CASA speaks in court to help the judge assess the progress of the case. Shawn says it isn’t difficult for him to plan his work schedule around his volunteer commitments, and vice versa.
Shawn’s commitment to children extends beyond his CASA role. He and his wife Jennifer are key supporters of the Greater Lakes Region Children’s Auction, which raises funds for local organizations that assist children (including CASA of NH). Over the years, Shawn has pitched in answering phones during the live auction, participating on a Challenge Team, and organizing toy drives. “I have a soft spot for children, pets and senior citizens, but children the most,” Shawn says. For children in hard places, that soft spot in Shawn’s heart has made a world of difference.