My Journey in Orphan Care: Becoming a CASA
“Anyone who sets himself up as “religious” by talking a good game is self-deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.” – James 1:27
About six months ago I was talking with my friend Susan on her back patio as our kids played and caused various mischief. While we were solving world problems, philosophical and theological issues ranging from potty training to navigating career and parenting, something she said stuck with me… something to the affect of: “You know how you have friends who have a thing? They sell essential oils and tell everyone about them, they are dedicated to working out/exercise or are passionate about adoption or advocating for ending human trafficking? All of their Facebook posts are about this, all of their time and energy is spent on this….you know, they have a thing that everyone knows about. Do you ever think about your thing?”
This conversation continued to resonate in my mind days after we had hung out. I had considered this many times over. I have always felt myself to be a jack-of-all-trades-and-interests person rather than a passionate master of one…there are so many issues that I would say I have a passionate conviction about. I always have a hard time understanding the passion behind one THING. If I had to choose just one thing, that would have to be my faith as a Christ-follower. My life is completely changed and transformed because of my faith. That must be the thing. And it is.
Over the years that thing, my faith, has continued to grow and develop and God has placed a real conviction on my heart for an active participation in caring for the marginalized in my community, specifically orphans in foster care.
The statistics around young adults who age out of foster care are staggering. In 2014, more than 18,000 young adults in the United States aged out of foster care. Here is my source for the following stats:
- More than one in five will become homeless after age 18 1
- Only 58 percent will graduate high school by age 19 (compared to 87 percent of all 19 year olds) 2
- 71 percent of young women are pregnant by 21, facing higher rates of unemployment, criminal conviction, public assistance, and involvement in the child welfare system 3
- At the age of 24, only half are employed 4
- Fewer than 3 percent will earn a college degree by age 25 (compared to 28 percent of all 25 year olds 5
- One in four will be involved in the justice system within two years of leaving the foster care system 6
I think we can do better for kids in our community.
I think I can do better.
My faith in Christ reminds me that these children are wholly loved, valued and redeemed by their Creator. He is El Roi, the God who sees … in the destruction, loss, abuse and neglect of a childhood stolen from them. And God loves their parents. Redemption and grace are real. And hard. A little less Sunday School and a little more rehab, forgiveness and change.
RC and I have not felt personally compelled to foster and we are not actively pursuing adoption, so I started doing some more research about how I could be involved with caring for orphans in my own community. That is where CASA comes in. Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children.
In Colorado, a CASA is a volunteer advocate that is court-appointed and works with a child who is in the foster care system, spending time with them weekly (the commitment is once a week when possible, in person) getting to know them and acting as a positive adult role model in their life. For younger kids this looks like going to the zoo, playing at the park or going to the library…for older adolescents this might look like going to a concert, watching their basketball game, helping check in at school to make sure they are on track to graduate and fostering life skills they will need to live independently at age 18. With most CASA cases, you can include your own family in activities – I love that aspect. I first learned about CASA about one year ago when one of the executives at the hospital where I worked invited me as her guest as the annual fundraising and awareness luncheon that CASA hosts in Denver. I am not much of a crier, but start talking about youth who are in such complex and difficult situations, separated from their parents, physically abused and/or neglected and I am a hot mess. I could not hold back the tears at this luncheon and did everything I could to keep it together and not wind up in the ugly cry. Y’all know what I am talking about…A CASA volunteer stood up to explain what it looks like to volunteer…he was a VP of a local company, father to 4 kids of his own and he found time to be a CASA. Isn’t time the best excuse? We are all so.so.busy.
I did what any person would do after being moved by a cause…I came home and told my husband that he should volunteer to be a CASA. I mean, they need more male volunteers and role models and he would be a great one.
I think I knew in my heart that this was the thing that God was leading me to give my time and energy to. But I am just so.so.busy.
Flash forward 3-4 months. My girlfriend, Carmen, was cutting my hair and we were also talking about very important topics like hair product for my pitifully dry thick hair, why my youngest son was little-boy-weird and liked peeing in our backyard and also Shane Claiborne’s book The Irresistible Revolution. At the tail end of our conversation I told Carmen that I thought I was suppose to volunteer with CASA and to follow-up with me in a few months to see if I followed through with at least finding out what I needed to do logistically to become a volunteer. I honestly think I pushed off my next haircut because I had not taken any action.
I had a lot of fear. I am not a person prone to fear or worry – I have many other things I wrestle with but those are usually not big ones for me. But I felt it considering what it might look like to work with a child who had been abused and/or neglected. How would I handle coming to knowledge of the reality of these situations? As I processed this fear, I realized, how could I not advocate for these children who lived in the reality of loss…abuse…neglect. My fear was their reality.
Then that conversation with Susan…the thing, I knew what God was asking me to be my thing, my small service in the community to support orphan care.
So here I am, wrapping up my 2 week, 30-hour training and will be sworn in at the courthouse next week. I cried my entire 25 min. drive home after the first training. The kids I will work with are so brave and have experienced so much….I wanted to make time to sit down and sort through these thoughts before training wraps up. I want to remember the small act of obedience, by God’s grace, the loving support from my friends & family to show up. Sometimes all it takes is just showing up.
I love what Brené Brown and The Compassion Collective contributors share … there’s no such thing as other people’s children. What a timely reminder as we head in to a weekend that celebrates mothers.
Busyness (real or perceived) robs us all, especially in my generation. We all have life going on, we all have 24-hours in the day to steward. We all have gifts, talents and resources to share. May we do it well and be brave and kind encouragers to also cheer our friends and family on.
What is the thing that God has you to give in the context of your community? What step has to be taken to move forward in that?
By His grace, be brave.
Here are a few other pages of resources about foster care and aging out – if you have any favorite orphan care resources that have been educational for you, please share them in the comments, I am knee-deep in learning!