At the time of writing it’s early May, and Mother’s Day is coming up. In the main office of Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of New Hampshire sits a helpful reminder – a stack of beautiful cards provided by volunteer advocate Pete King. They were designed by Pete’s friend Jill Weber, who donated her artwork to raise funds for CASA. In addition to the cards he purchases for staff to give to the moms in their lives, Pete will also be mailing out cards of his own.
“I’ve made my list,” Pete says. “I have 22 Mother’s Day cards I will send this year. This is my way of staying in touch with the moms and foster moms of the children I’ve been on cases for. With many of them that’s the only contact I will have with them, I’ll send them a card each year. Usually they text me back and tell me how they’re doing and send me a picture of the child.” He reflects, “I think I’m the only guy in the world who sends 20 Mother’s Day cards.” It’s a claim we can neither confirm nor disprove, but when it comes to letting moms know how much they’re appreciated, Pete would welcome some friendly competition.
Bulk card purchases and monthly donations are just some of the many ways Pete supports CASA. Having seven years of experience as a CASA volunteer, he is fully committed to the organization’s mission. “It’s made me a better person. People know that I’m a CASA, and I think they really respect me for doing it. I have gotten praise from many people. And it’s real praise, it’s not just ‘Hey, nice job.’ I’m proud of the work I do. I’m proud of the cases I have, I’m proud of trying to recruit, to talk up CASA, to raise money, anything I can do for CASA. It’s just a great organization. I’m happy to be part of it.”
The accounts Pete can give of his CASA cases are as remarkable and special as the effort he puts into them. One that often comes to mind for him involved a girl under 10 who was living in placement with her relative. It was not the ideal situation in that the relative was only set up to have her for the weekend, but ended up needing to keep the child long-term. Pete explains, “The girl didn’t have her stuff, she only had space on a couch. But people kept saying ‘Oh, she’s fine, she’s so darn resilient.’ They’d say, ‘She has been through so much and she’s a tough little girl.’ I spent a lot of time with this young girl because she just didn’t really have a connection with the relative. The adult was there, but the relationship was kind of distant.”
He continues, “One day, the girl and I were doing a craft and talking, and she broke down and started to cry, and gave me a hug, and that’s when I knew she’s not a resilient kid, she’s a hurt kid, and she’s hiding it. That was really the beginning of her opening up and getting some help, and she’s a great little kid — a great teenager — now. I was happy that I was there for that moment when she finally realized ‘I can cry, I can reach out to someone for help.’”
Pete began volunteering as a Court Appointed Special Advocate while still working fulltime. One thing that surprised him about being a CASA is how well his outside experience prepared him for the role. He says, “I was an engineer, and because of that I’m well organized, I like to plan, and I like to make schedules.” Pete’s project management skills shine in his advocacy work. “It’s sort of like running a project. You don’t assume it’s just going to keep going, you check in, you set milestones, you set expectations, and if things don’t go as planned, you make adjustments.”
Pete had cause to kick his planning and management skills into high gear during the pandemic. “Another special case began when I got a call that there was a child in the hospital born substance-exposed and essentially abandoned. Mom was expelled from the hospital for actively using substances, I think when the child was a day old. This was in the beginning of Covid-19, when nobody knew what was going on, and the hospital was in complete lockdown. The infant couldn’t be released, and only close relatives were being allowed to visit patients. I spent days on the phone trying to get access into the hospital, and I finally got in touch with a social worker at the hospital and convinced them to grant me special permission to visit. So, because of that I would spend about three hours a day going into the hospital and just sitting and rocking her, just so this baby had some skin-to-skin contact with a human being. The nurses loved her, but they had their jobs to do, and their job wasn’t to sit and rock her all day.”
Pete says, “They did find a foster mom, and the foster mom told me they wouldn’t let her visit the child. I said yes, they will, this is the person you need to talk to. After that we switched off, and the foster mom spent hours and hours in there; the child was in the hospital for about a month. That child is a great little one, and she and her sister have since been adopted by a wonderful young couple.”
There are no two child welfare cases that can be treated exactly the same; each situation, each child, each family is unique. But Pete has found his cases do have a unifying theme. “It gives me satisfaction to see that every one of my cases has had a successful outcome,” he says. “And by that, I mean the children have ended up in a much better place, sometimes with their parents who have overcome their issues and addressed them, and sometimes in adoptive homes, and sometimes with relatives. But in all cases I can look back and say the children are better off, and I made a difference in it.”
Another unifying theme is the care Pete shows for case parents. “I love it when I can help a parent who has been struggling,” he says. Pete explains that most of his cases have come about due to a combination of drug use and mental health issues. “I have seen cases where these parents have no one to trust, they have no one to help guide them in any way. I find it really satisfying when I get a case where I can make a bond with a parent and really help them get into treatment, and help them to where they can call me if they have an issue. Substance misuse gets in the way for these parents. But I’ve had a couple of cases where moms have gotten clean and sober and they have their children back and they’re just wonderful moms. I’d have to say all the moms are wonderful mothers when they’re not using, every one of them is. That’s been just super rewarding.”
So, to the moms we work with at CASA, and to all moms, thank you, and Happy Mother’s Day from Pete King and CASA of New Hampshire!