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How Are the Children in These Challenging Times?

Judge Glenda A. Hatchett
National CASA Spokesperson

My sons and I visited East Africa in 2006, spending time in several Masai villages. We quickly learned that when one greets someone, instead of saying, “How are you?” one asks, “How are the children?” And the positive response is, “All the children are well.” 

This greeting spoke to my heart because it was clear that the approach to raising children in the Masai culture was community responsibility. Although individual children may be my biological children or your biological children, all of the children belong to our tribe. If we as a society can honestly say in response to the question, “How are the children?” that “All the children are well,” it means that we are all well. And if we cannot honestly respond in the affirmative, then none of us are as well as we should be. 

We are in a desperate situation in the current economy. Parents have lost their jobs; families have lost their homes to foreclosure; people are sleeping in cars or wherever they can find shelter. Parents who would normally be able to cope can find the additional burdens of poverty unbearable. These extra pressures can push parents over the edge into abuse or neglect, bringing them and their children into the social service system. Many of these parents would normally be able to turn to other family members in hard times, but those family members are now dealing with the same hardships. So the situation builds upon itself. 

It’s important to note that in many communities, social services departments are finding funds to help families with housing to avoid bringing children into care. But other families fall through the cracks. 

I have heard so many miraculous stories about the children served by CASA volunteers. One involved a sibling group that was able to spend time together because a CASA volunteer cared enough to make it a priority. These children were living within a one-hour radius of each other yet had not seen each other in months. But the advocate made it possible for them to regularly have dinner together. It may not seem like this could change the world—having pizza with your siblings. But if you are 9 years old and have a 5-year-old sister whom you have felt responsible for, and all of a sudden you do not see her for six weeks—those six weeks are a lifetime. 

By investing in this generation of young people, we are making a wonderful head start for their children’s children who will live long after we are gone. I cannot think of more important work than to take a child’s hand, connect with his heart and do what we can to make his life better. We know that children with a CASA volunteer are less likely to be in care long term. They are less likely to reenter care. And their whole future is brighter. 

I thank the CASA volunteers, and I thank the staff members, board members and donors—all these committed men and women throughout the nation who are working tirelessly every day to make this their priority. I thank all of you because your work really moves us every day toward the goal of being able to answer, “All the children are well.” 

We can all feel overwhelmed at times. But if I commit to working on my piece, then I am part of a larger movement. The successes we influence for children are often incremental. The child may not find a permanent placement today, but it is an incremental win that he is staying in school. It is an incremental win that she won her science fair, that he got a part in the school play. 

I often advise people, “Do what you can, when you can.” Maybe it means being a volunteer. Or maybe it means helping a local CASA program with its fundraising, or writing a letter to the editor to help recruit volunteers. We all have our place in this continuum. We each need to feel that we are taking ownership of a specific piece and then celebrate even the small victories. 

You do make a difference to that young woman in care to whom you are assigned. Or to that boy who has a volunteer as a result of your commitment as a donor or staff member. Your support changes generations to come. You help the girl become a stronger adult and in turn to become a stronger mother. If we all do what we can, when we can, one day all of the children will be well.  

The Honorable Glenda A. Hatchett is a nationally recognized authority on juvenile issues known for her award-winning television series Judge Hatchett and her book Say What You Mean and Mean What You Say! See her website for more information: glendahatchett.com.

The US Department of Justice has supported CASA advocacy since 1985 through its Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
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