Advocate Shawn Bailey

CASA Advocate Shawn Bailey: Permanency Means Family

Advocate Shawn Bailey

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.

If you would like to become a CASA volunteer, consider attending an upcoming virtual information session to learn more, or submit an application today

Married CASA Advocates Rob and Toni

Married CASA Advocates: Toni Egger and Rob Taylor

Rob and Toni

When it comes to volunteering with Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA, some might wonder, what’s it like to have two volunteers living under the same roof? Married couple and CASA advocates Toni Egger and Rob Taylor have the answer: two really is company.

Initially Rob and Toni were interested in becoming foster parents. And while they had the space in their home and in their hearts to foster, they were very busy raising their two small sons. For Toni, becoming a CASA was the perfect solution. It allowed her to help the same children in need, while caring for her own children. Toni was the first to take the leap to volunteer as a CASA in Seattle, when they were living on the west coast.

A hop, skip, and a jump of moves later, Toni, Rob and family landed in New Hampshire. As they settled into the Granite State, Toni resumed her CASA role, this time on the east coast. Concurrently Rob volunteered to help new immigrants establish their lives in the United States. However, after changes to immigration policy drastically reduced the need for that volunteer work, Rob decided to join the CASA family alongside his wife.

Three years have since passed, giving the couple ample time to discover what it’s like for them to serve simultaneously as CASAs. The verdict is resoundingly positive. While each must serve on their own cases and they can’t discuss any case details, as all case specifics are confidential, they can understand and relate to what the other is going through. “We have our own little support system right here,” Rob reports.

“I agree with that entirely,” says Toni. “We can give each other emotional support. There can be some rough moments in this work, and I have Rob as my friend and support. And we can also share our victories when something goes really well. In our collective cases we’ve had two really successful adoptions, and it was great to be able to celebrate those with each other.”

Both Toni and Rob feel very fortunate to have had the childhood and educational opportunities they did. For each of them, CASA is a way to give back and help children who don’t have those same advantages. As Rob puts it, “We want to do something that contributes to the welfare of the world.”

The work of a CASA is hard at times, but Toni finds the children themselves the most rewarding part of this role. “It’s the kids—it’s just the kids. They’re open and ready to have adult friends and to look to someone who they trust to help them meet their needs. I’ve developed pretty good relationships with each child I’ve worked with. I’m still invited by some to their birthday parties. And seeing them succeed at things—it’s those little moments that are pretty rewarding.”

Rob too delights in moments he’s shared with the children. “I took a chess set to a visit with my teenage CASA child last winter, because he loves to play games outside but it was too cold and snowy. And darned if he didn’t beat me at the first game! Turns out he’s a pretty good chess player! So, these kids are full of surprises.” Here Toni chimes in, “Rob said he was pretty proud of himself too!”

At CASA of NH, we have seen that abuse and neglect can often be a cycle that continues through generations. But the opposite is also true. The countless hours Toni and Rob have spent in service has had a ripple effect on their family. “Our younger son worked in Boston with an organization that helped young kids learn math and business skills, and he said that he was committed to that because of what he had seen us do over the years with CASA and other volunteer services. Now that he’s a dad and runs his own business he doesn’t have time for that, but I think he appreciates his own kids that much more, and we certainly feel fortunate that our grandkids have a solid family life. It makes you wake up each day feeling grateful.”

Toni and Rob would encourage others, couples included, to consider volunteering with CASA. “It’s a great way to help less fortunate people in the community,” says Toni, “particularly if you like kids. And if you have spent time with kids in some capacity, as a coach, teacher or parent, then you have all the experience you need to get involved.”

“We tell people that it’s not for everyone,” Rob continues, “but after your initial training you can decide if it’s more than you can handle, or if you’re saying ‘let’s go, let’s do this! You can decide whether this is right for you.”

Those who choose to volunteer with CASA can expect to have the full resources of the organization behind them, as Rob and Toni have experienced. “The support and training by the CASA organization has been really great. I hope that people who are potentially interested in signing up are made aware of just how much support there is. It’s impressive,” says Toni.

What’s also impressive is the dedication this couple has shown to children in need. Two terrific people, one household, and one shared mission of helping children.

If you would like to become a CASA volunteer, consider attending an upcoming virtual information session to learn more, or submit an application today

Child and Adult

CASA Advocate Alison Lawrence: Showing Up to Make a Difference

Over the course of her 12-year service at Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of New Hampshire, Alison Lawrence has gained a bit of a reputation. She’s even earned herself a nickname: The Finisher. And while this all sounds quite ominous, it’s actually much the opposite.

One of the first things you’d notice when meeting Alison is that, judging by her accent, she’s not from “around here.” In 2001, Alison and her family moved from England to New England when her husband accepted a job in New Hampshire. Since she came to the states on his work visa, Alison wasn’t allowed to obtain paid employment herself. She had been an elementary school teacher in London, so she began volunteering at her children’s school. She continued to look for volunteer opportunities and when she discovered CASA, Alison felt like it was a perfect fit.

Alison has worked on a wide array of cases. She has seen children adopted and she’s seen families reunified. She’s had cases where she and DCYF were in agreement, and others where the facts led her to a different conclusion.

In one case, Alison believed that reunification was safe and possible when DCYF felt otherwise. Ultimately the judge agreed with Alison and the family was reunified. “That was hard,” Alison says. “It felt really difficult to be in opposition to DCYF, but it was hugely satisfying to think how hard we worked to get that little girl to go home, which was not going to happen otherwise. It was really wonderful for the judge to listen and to make you feel like your thoughts matter.”

The value judges place on the CASA’s insight is one constant Alison has experienced throughout her cases. “I’ve had the judge lean across the bench to me and say, ‘So come on Alison, what do you think?’ And that’s because very often you are the one who sees that family the most. You do have a closer point of contact.” By working on only one or two cases at a time, the CASA is able to get to know the child themselves, the parents, and the various issues, needs, and family dynamics at play more acutely than perhaps anyone else working on that case. They pick up on things others might miss and they see the continuum of whether parents are making the necessary progress.

Alison says adoptions are “absolutely adorable and the most beautiful thing you’ll ever get see.” As the advocate for infant twins who were taken into care immediately from the hospital, Alison was there to see their adoption.

Sadly, Alison reports she’s witnessed a rise in the number of cases involving infants due to the opioid crises. More babies are being born substance-exposed to parents who are unable to care for them due in large part to their substance misuse. “People often say to me, ‘Oh, I don’t know how you could do that work, it would break my heart, it’s so sad.’ But I think it’s the complete opposite! It’s not sad at all. We all know these terrible things go on, but let’s make the best of what is happening. Let’s try to improve it! I saw two children get adopted into a family where they mean the world. Can you give me a better example of something with a more phenomenal outcome?”

Teenagers, on the other hand, pose their own set of hurdles. “My very first case was probably the most challenging. It was an older youth who had so many opinions on what he thought was best. When you’re in a bad situation you lash out at everybody. But as crazy as it is, I feel like sometimes I have the worst relationship with a teenager, yet they contact me when they need someone. You realize that they don’t see me as the enemy, they actually see me as being quite supportive of them.”

It’s through some of these cases and others like them that Alison earned her CASA moniker, The Finisher. As Alison attests, “if you call me and you’re in a pinch, I’ll say yes.” Once CASA staff discovered this, along with her ability to always stay neutral and to see the big picture, Alison’s phone began ringing with requests for her to step in when other CASAs had to leave a case. Alison would see these cases through to the end, ensuring each child continued to receive the attention and support that a CASA provides.

To those wondering how a CASA even begins a case, Alison advises, “Just be you. Treat this as if you weren’t doing it in a legal way, and you’re actually just a friend of the family. If you had just met somebody, what would you say to them? Just remember you’re talking to another human, and all the other stuff will come in time. It absolutely is a whole new world, and you’re learning on your feet. You’ll get there, and you’ll always have the support of people around you within the organization.”

One could spend a lifetime doing this work and still encounter new things. Having worked with 17 children on 13 different cases, Alison hasn’t “seen it all,” but her experience is considerable. So, it’s significant that she emphatically (and frequently) encourages others to consider becoming a CASA. “When people say they’ve thought about doing this, but it would be too sad, it would break their heart, I ask them, ‘is it better for you to deal with that, or for it not to be dealt with at all?’ I tell them they will be fine, and that they will have cases that are so heartwarming it will balance it all out. Yes, these are difficult situations, but we’re always aiming to get the best outcome.”

For some lucky and deserving children, The Finisher was on the job to help them reach their best outcome. For others, it could be you.

If you would like to become a CASA volunteer, consider attending an upcoming virtual information session to learn more, or submit an application today

CASA Advocate Kerri Harrington

CASA Advocate Kerri Harrington: The Needs of the Child Come First

CASA Advocate Kerri Harrington

Volunteering in her community has always been a part of Kerri Harrington’s life and a value her mother instilled in her. A friend suggested Kerri consider CASA because she’d always had the courage to speak for those who didn’t have a voice. Kerri was intrigued by the idea of becoming a CASA and thought she would take it on during retirement, but the transition to virtual CASA training two years ago allowed her to take on this important work now.

Throughout Kerri’s life, she’s been drawn to working with children. Her experiences in the Peace Corps working with children in schools and orphanages in Kazakhstan shaped her understanding and empathy for society’s most vulnerable members. She knew this would be a challenging volunteer job, but with the support of her program manager and fellow CASAs, she has found great success in doing this critical child advocacy work.  She added, “It’s also nice to have friends and family who support the volunteer work you do.”

Kerri has worked on two cases in her two years as a CASA advocate. At the start, she was shocked at the number of children in the family court system and the limited resources available to support those needing help. This helped her discover more of her own empathy seeing the challenges these families are facing and is driven to remain a part of the CASA program to try and help. Kerri explained, “No matter the turmoil in the case, everyone involved works to ensure that the needs of the child are always first.”

Kerri shared, “You can make an impact in one child’s life which makes a difference in the community as a whole.” She has discovered this advocacy work makes a significant impact and can interrupt the cycle of abuse and/or neglect for generations to come. “I encourage everyone to consider this volunteer opportunity. If you are thinking you can do it, you can.”

There is a serious shortage of CASA advocates for children in the North Country who have experienced abuse or neglect.

If you would like to become a CASA volunteer, consider attending our June 6th North Country virtual information session to learn more, or submit an application today

CASA Advocate Jeanmarie Foisie

CASA Advocate Jeanmarie Foisie: Healing Through Helping Others

CASA Advocate Jeanmarie Foisie

Jeanmarie Foisie with her granddaughter.

When Jeanmarie Foisie discovered CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) of New Hampshire in 2013, she was in the grips of a pain no parent should ever have to bear. Jeanmarie and her husband had recently lost their 19-year-old son, and she felt as though she was walking through life in a fog of grief.

The Foisies were also new residents of the Granite State, which added further layers to navigate as they tried to find their bearings in their new reality.

One day, while she sat off to the side in a Starbucks as her daughter chatted with a friend, Jeanmarie looked up and she says it literally felt as if the fog lifted. Her eyes locked on a CASA of NH poster, and to Jeanmarie that poster shone a beam of hope into the darkness: a hope that would bring a healing sense of purpose through helping others.

Jeanmarie had been a teacher for 25 years in Connecticut, and technically she was retired since her move. Given that she had always worked to support the wellbeing of children, the role of a CASA immediately interested her. After much research and contemplation around whether working with abused and neglected children would help her, or if it would pain her more, she decided that this was a concrete and needed way to work through her grief. After completing the training, Jeanmarie was hooked. “It was absolutely the right path for me,” she says.

The CASA organization serves children of all ages, from days-old babies to teenagers right up until they turn 18 (in certain cases 21) and age out of state care. During her eight years as a CASA, Jeanmarie has chosen to work with a lot of teenagers. “I’m a believer in the importance of having that one trusted adult,” she says. “The most rewarding thing to me is feeling that you’ve made a connection with the child. Those relationships and that trust take a little time to build. With the little ones it doesn’t take long before they’re up in your lap, and they’re hugging you, and they embrace you pretty much right away. The teenagers are different, you absolutely have to build that trust.”

Jeanmarie distinctly remembers the first time, with her first CASA teenager, where she really won her trust. “We were in court, and the child’s mother, who was usually at the hearings despite her struggles, didn’t come. The child was anxious and worried about her mother. She was seated at one table and I was at another. She turned and looked at me and asked if I could sit with her. This was when I really felt that the girl now viewed me as a caring adult in her life.”

This is just one example of how Jeanmarie has been a positive force in her case children’s lives. Another is the girl she is working with now, who somedays calls Jeanmarie two or three times, just because she needs to know someone is listening to her. “Looking back at the teenagers I’ve worked with, sometimes they’re so untrusting. They don’t want to be in care and they’re fighting it. It’s meaningful when you can become that person who they call when they need someone to talk to.”

In the case of another girl who was soon to turn 18, Jeanmarie was able to guide the child to stay within the child protective system so she wouldn’t lose access to beneficial services. “She wanted to be out of care so, so badly,” recounts Jeanmarie. “I think the teenagers reach a point where they don’t want to be told what to do. When you can sit and reason with a child and say, ‘let’s look at what your life would look like without staying in care and without any support systems in place, and then let’s look at what it would look like if you stayed in care where you’re afforded these specific supports.’ When you can break through and have them come to the decision that is in their best interest, then I feel like I did my job.”

Jeanmarie encourages others to consider joining her as a CASA. “It’s one of the most altruistic organizations I’ve ever been connected to. It is filled with good people. When you take that risk and become a CASA, your thinking will expand.” She points out that, “If you have any trepidation, it’s okay. CASA doesn’t need you to be sure all the time. They want you to ask questions. Every uncertainty I had was answered, and that put me at ease. The court system can be hard to navigate, but you have so much support with CASA.”

Jeanmarie and her husband live on a farm raising 22 cows on a picturesque 70 acres with their daughter, Lily, and nearby to their son, daughter-in-law, and first grandchild.  In addition to Jeanmarie’s work as a CASA, the family has established other ways to help youth in their community. A couple of years ago they created a workshop program wherein they sponsor a graduating high school senior who is interested in pursuing a trade, and whose life includes some type of hardship. They match the teen with a contractor, and for two years they mentor the student and pay their salary so it’s not a burden on the contractor. In return the contractor spends time teaching the student in a culture that is positive and supportive. This program is an enduring tribute to their son, who was a carpenter.

If you would like to become a CASA volunteer, consider attending an upcoming virtual information session to learn more, or submit an application today

David Sky

CASA Advocate David Sky: Discovering the Depth of Compassion

David Sky

Compassion is a quality shared by all CASA of New Hampshire volunteers. You could say it is the very quality that led David Sky to take on the role of a CASA advocate. At that time, David was studying Nonviolent Communication as developed by Marshall B. Rosenberg, PhD. This communication approach focuses on learning to hear our own deeper needs and those of others. As a result, we discover the depth of our own compassion. David desired to find a way to put the principles he was studying into practice “in the wild,” and after considering a few different programs, he chose CASA.

From the very first training session, CASA volunteers learn the importance of being aware of and checking their own biases. This fits with the tenets of Nonviolent Communication, where racial bias, discrimination, and judgements of who’s “good” or “bad” or what’s “right” or “wrong” with people have no place in the conversation. Very quickly upon beginning his work as a CASA, David was able to challenge his own mindset. “When someone does something differently than what you’re accustomed to, there’s sort of a natural tendency to view your own way as the right way because it’s what you know. So, you have to be open and realize that there are many ways—many dynamics, family cultures and systems—that work for families,” he explains.

Some of the challenges David faces as a CASA are of a more utilitarian nature; namely, how to fit volunteering in while also working full-time. He solves this challenge by staying organized, and practicing some smart scheduling. David considers the timing of when he accepts a new case, having learned that the first four to six weeks is a very busy period. “The beginning of a case is a little like drinking water from a fire hose. There’s a lot of stuff coming at you. You learn who the key players are and start to establish relationships. Then as the case goes forward you find your rhythm. You figure out how that particular case is going to fit into your life.”

He continues, “You have court hearings to attend, and DCYF (NH Division of Children, Youth and Family) case workers like to meet during the day. For the most part I’ve been able to take cases that are local (though that sometimes does change if a child ends up being placed further away, for example to live with a relative), and I try to arrange it so my appointments are either first thing in the morning, on my lunch, or last thing at the end of the day, so that I only have to shift my workday minimally. Other than that, I visit my kiddos after work or on the weekend.”

And that’s what it really comes down to: the kiddos. David says the most meaningful thing about being a CASA is connecting with the children he works with. “I really try hard to get to know them by visiting them in all their different modalities. I observe them visiting with their bio parents, in their out-of-home placement, in their daycare or school setting, and while participating in sports or hobbies, so I can see what makes them light up, or what makes them retreat inside themselves. I talk to them about what they’re passionate about and what they enjoy in life.”

To David, “It’s a real gift to be able to be present with someone’s vulnerabilities and when someone opens up. And it’s a real gift to be able to serve and contribute in some way. It’s sort of like being trusted to hold a fragile egg and help carry it across the room.”

If becoming a CASA advocate is something you’re considering, here is David’s advice: “Follow your curiosity. Just because you show interest, apply, or even start the training, there’s no obligation to take a case. Keep learning about it. I found the training helpful and comforting, so I was able to take on a case. Signing on to take that first case seemed like a big commitment, but they understand that life happens. The intention is that if you’re able and if your life doesn’t change, you’ll stick with that case.” And stuck with it David has – for seven years, 10 cases, and to the benefit of 14 children, and counting.

If you would like to become a CASA volunteer, consider attending an upcoming virtual information session to learn more, or submit an application today

CASA Advocate Deb Zimmermann

CASA Advocate Deb Zimmermann is Making a Direct Impact in the Lives of Children

CASA Volunteer Advocate Deb Zimmermann

Deb Zimmermann’s determination, passion and commitment exemplify what makes CASA volunteer advocates such a gift to so many children. Her generosity of spirit and time (13 years, 40 children and 22 cases) continue to transform young lives of all ages. Her ongoing financial support has also helped further CASA’s critical mission.

Deb came to CASA after working as a residential counselor in a home for girls. She was struck by the relationship that one of the girls had with her CASA volunteer advocate and the significant impact it made on the young girl’s life. After serving on a variety of boards, Deb decided to become an advocate — as she says, “in order to serve in a more direct role.”

Time and time again, Deb’s advocacy work has illustrated just how crucial it is for children who have experienced abuse or neglect to have a CASA in their lives. There was the instance of an adolescent whose out-of-home placement wasn’t a good fit. The child didn’t want to speak up because the placement was still better than the environment he’d been removed from. However, Deb sensed that something was bothering him, and she was able to earn the youth’s trust to the point where he opened up about his concerns.

Another example of where Deb’s work made a true impact involved a child whose adoption fell though. It was just after the child’s birthday, and they were stuck in a bleak limbo while DCYF struggled to find another appropriate placement. During this dismal time, while the child struggled with feelings of rejection and abandonment, Deb was the only person who visited. A couple of times a week she’d go to play cards, keep the child company, and let them know someone cared. Though heartbreaking for Deb to witness at the time, the case had a happy conclusion, and the child is now living with a relative. As Deb can attest to, “Letting a child know you are in their corner can make a world of difference.”

The “secret” to Deb’s longstanding service with CASA is actually quite evident: she’s here for the children. As she says, “The kids are the best. They’re what keep me doing this. I’ve met some amazing, awesome kids, and established meaningful relationships. It’s incredible to see their resiliency, and their capacity to forgive. Seeing how traumatized they are, and their ability to come out the other side, has taught me lessons for my own life.”

Deb explains that the CASA volunteer role is for someone who is willing to put the work in to get the emotional rewards. “You’ll be making a difference and doing something meaningful that changes people’s lives. It’s not for the faint of heart, you have to be willing—willing to go to the court, to schools, to meetings. You have to be willing to devote the time, to be there for the kids, and to come in with an open mind. But if you want to help people, this is the way to do it.”

Deb and her husband Christian, President of the New England Group for CRH Americas Materials Inc., have also been donors to CASA for a number of years, and Pike Industries (part of CRH) has sponsored CASA events.

If you would like to become a CASA volunteer, consider attending an upcoming virtual information session to learn more, or submit an application today

Kurt Hastings Outdoors

Retired Teacher Kurt Hastings Keeps Children’s Interests Front and Center

Retired Teacher and Advocate Kurt Hastings

Kurt Hastings has seen a lot of the world. Some of it by foot, as in 2016 when he and his wife trekked the Camino de Santiago, an ancient 500-mile pilgrimage from southern France across northern Spain to Santiago de Compostela. Some of it on the back of a motorcycle when the weather is good, for trips a little closer to home. And some of it while imagining the view from above, like on days when he flies RC airplanes with the Southern New Hampshire Flying Eagles club.

​Thankfully, Kurt’s life’s journey has also brought him to CASA of New Hampshire. In 2019, after retiring from a long career as a Spanish teacher at Pinkerton Academy, Kurt wanted to continue working with and helping children by volunteering as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA). 

​ Kurt explains that his professional experience made the need for CASA advocates clear. “As a high school teacher for 33 years, I was privy to a lot of history behind some of my kiddos. There’s a lot more going on in kids’ lives than people understand. There’s a lot going on in the family life that kids are adjusting to. Sometimes roles get reversed and the kids become the parents. I don’t know if the general public really realizes the difficulties that these kids go through.” 

​Kurt has one case nearing completion, and recently accepted a second. He has learned that there is an evolution that children go through during the life of the case. “There’s a certain period of time where the kids need to learn who you are, and learn to trust you. As that trust grows they start to open up more.”

He recalls that, “there were several months in the beginning where it was like pulling teeth to get a conversation going, because the kids don’t know who you are, and there are already trust issues to start with in their lives. But then month-by-month you see progress, and you start to see them come out of their shell. Seeing them smile, seeing them be like kids, watching them progress—that to me is rewarding. You get to see who they really are, after coming out of a dysfunctional situation.” 

​As is often true, Kurt, who praises both DCYF staff and foster parents for the hard work they do, has seen turnover in nearly every aspect of his case children’s lives. Children are assigned new Child Protective Services Workers (CPSWs), are moved to new foster placements, and have to adjust to new school districts.

He states, “the benefit of the CASA is that you’re often that one consistent person that’s been in the children’s lives throughout the entire process. No matter where the case goes, the CASA is the anchor. I at times will find myself reminding others of what has happened during the case, what has worked and what hasn’t, and what I feel the children’s needs are. Being with the children from the start, you’ve built a file of information from many contacts with the child’s providers, hopefully creating an understanding about what has happened and changed since the very beginning. As their CASA, you’re the one keeping the children’s interests front and center.” 

​Kurt likens the work of the CASA to parenting, saying, “It gets easier as you move from bringing that newborn home [i.e. the start of a case], and then as the months go on you see progress, and you see smiles that you didn’t necessarily see in the beginning. It’s a wonderful thing to see that growth in the children.”

He sums up his experience by saying, “It’s a fulfilling role in the life of children. Your only interest is working for their benefit. You get to help them navigate all of the things that are going on around them. As an advocate you have a voice in decisions that are being made, both large and small.”

CASA needs more bilingual volunteers like Kurt. If you speak multiple languages, please consider applying to be a CASA volunteer! You can attend an upcoming virtual information session to learn more, or submit your application today

Volunteer Howard Hughes

Howard Hughes Found a Meaningful Volunteer Role as a CASA Advocate

Howard Hughes

Professor. Downhill skier. Globetrotter. Father and grandfather. Sailor. In 2020, Howard Hughes added to this impressive list when he made the decision to venture out of his comfort zone (something he’s fond of doing) and become a CASA volunteer advocate. Howard enjoys children so as he neared retirement he took his sister’s suggestion (a former CASA herself) and began looking into Court Appointed Special Advocates of New Hampshire.

Howard is now on his third case with CASA and the longtime educator is continually learning, a favorite hobby of his. At the start of his first case with a seven-year-old, Howard says he felt slightly “amnesic” about what a second-grader would be interested in. But his focus on interacting with children at their level is the important part; he can discover their interests and favorite activities along the way.

Howard has found that the role of a CASA can sometimes be challenging, but he has learned to use lots of persistence and some creativity to get around obstacles. He once texted a photo of himself to a parent with a message that Howard’s only job was to look out for the child. Howard reports this finally helped the parent feel comfortable to connect with him, as he could see that Howard was a kind person who was there to help.

Once, when trying to get two adversarial parents to work together for their child’s sake, Howard illustrated his point with a sports reference.  “I told them that I was getting them all the same color t-shirt, so that we remember we’re on the same team.  When sharing custody, the one thing you have together is your little girl. So let’s try to be teammates when it comes to her.”

And he’s learned about some of the factors that force children into the child protective system, including substance misuse. Before becoming a CASA, Howard had little knowledge of addiction. Yet all three of his cases largely hinge on the fallout caused by it. Here, he isn’t alone. Since the rise of the opioid epidemic, the majority of cases CASA takes on involve substance misuse—something most volunteers are inexperienced with when they first come to the program. This is why CASA works diligently to train volunteers and provide them with resources to increase their knowledge and awareness.

“Every parent I’ve worked with as a CASA has had obvious problems with opiates and other substances. And almost all of them claim that their parents had the same problem. This stuff gets transmitted from one generation to the next, but that doesn’t mean it’s genetic. There’s a cultural element.” But Howard knows that addictions don’t have to get passed on to the next generation. His hope is that through his work as a CASA, he can help the children he serves to have a better life than their parents and their grandparents have had.

Much of the knowledge and skills a CASA needs are learned in the pre-service training that they all receive. But some of it, Howard reports, you learn by doing. “It’s learning to pay attention to what’s going on to see if you can determine what might be beneath the surface.”

Since becoming a CASA advocate, one moment towards the end of his first case stands out as particularly meaningful to Howard. He met the father outside in a parking lot, and as they were walking around, the man told Howard that he’d decided that he wanted to be as good a dad as he could be—that he was going to let go of other things, and focus on that. “I told him ‘I just love it when you talk that way, that’s what we’re going for.’”

“There have been times like these where I have been driving home from meeting with a parent and their children, and it has put me in a fabulous, euphoric mood. Not to say that other times it hasn’t put me in a bad mood. It’s real life. I’m not discouraged because somebody has to try and help. To throw up your hands and do nothing isn’t going to solve anything,” Howard concludes.

If you would like to become a CASA volunteer, consider attending an upcoming virtual information session to learn more, or submit an application today

When You Look for the Helpers, You’ll Find Maureen Rowley

 

Volunteering with children who have experienced abuse, neglect, and trauma, Maureen Rowley, a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for 22 years, has seen sadness and heartache, but has also seen joy.  She’s cheered on parents who battle back and arise victorious from the clutches of drug misuse in order to gain back custody of a beloved child.  And she’s seen the miraculous transformation that can take place when a traumatized child is matched with the perfect adoptive family.

“The most rewarding thing about this work is when you see what these kids have gone through and how difficult the situation is, have everything work out, is just fantastic,” says Maureen.

Maureen has learned and grown through her experiences as a CASA and through the educational opportunities provided. “When I first started, I didn’t realize how prevalent drugs were in Concord. I was really surprised.  But I understand a lot more now about addiction and how strong a hold it can have on people, to the point where nothing else matters.” Owing to her work as a CASA, Maureen says that she’s more empathetic now than she ever has been. “I’ve learned so much about children and development from all the CASA trainings and the free classes offered to CASAs through Granite State College.”

On top of her work as a CASA, Maureen is a fulltime legal assistant, mother, and grandmother. And while a college degree isn’t required to become a CASA volunteer, Maureen also earned her bachelor’s degree in behavioral science during this time.  Almost half of all CASAs work full time.  “It is doable if you work full time.  I can see how people looking in would think it can take up a huge part of your life, and it does sometimes, but there are so many good things that make it worthwhile to do this work.”

Maureen has seen the value in sometimes just being there for these children during the hardest time in their life. Having a hand in helping a child without a voice come to the point where they are in a much better place from where you found them is something she finds incredibly empowering.

The well-known and loved children’s television host Mr. Rogers advised children to “look for the helpers” in scary and uncertain situations. Maureen would certainly fit that role. “Helping others is really an enrichment to me as I was getting to know all these families. I like being able to help people, that’s the bottom line.”

It’s wonderful to think of all the children and families who are living better lives, all because Maureen chose to help.

If you would like to become a CASA volunteer, consider attending an upcoming virtual information session to learn more, or submit an application today