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News and Information from the National Court Appointed Special Advocate Association

Volunteer Voice

Ann Garnier
Alameda County CASA
San Leandro, CA

A friend introduced me to my local CASA program. She was on the board and invited me to a fundraiser. I was very moved by the stories several youth and volunteers shared. On a personal level, the mission resonated very strongly because my oldest brother is a former foster youth. On a professional level, it struck me that my experience in developing case management programs for the healthcare industry could translate to becoming a CASA volunteer.

After the event, I mentioned to my friend that when my busy schedule slowed down I’d really like to volunteer. That day came a few years later when I decided to take a one-year sabbatical to travel and undertake a challenging volunteer opportunity. The CASA program seemed like the perfect fit for me. It’s been over six years now, and I’ve worked with six teenage youth. All were girls residing in group homes; five were parents of an infant or toddler.

My assignment to teen girls who were parenting was purely accidental. My case supervisor and I were both surprised to learn that my first two assigned youth each had a child. When my supervisor asked me if I was okay working with teen parents, having no children of my own, I very naively said, “No problem!” I was already laser focused on emancipation planning, which was right around the corner for both youth. What I didn’t realize is that all of their challenges revolved around having young children. The girls couldn’t attend school, work or go to independent living classes without childcare, which is difficult to secure.

I don’t know who was more anxious those first months—me or the youth. I was a new volunteer and knew very little about teen girls and nothing about babies. The girls were skeptical about me. But they really needed help preparing for emancipation, so I think they decided to take a chance on an inexperienced volunteer. There were so many areas we worked on—and a few crisis situations—in such a short period that we bonded quickly. I tell new volunteers who are concerned that they haven’t bonded with their youth to just wait until a crisis occurs. The youth will soon realize that the one person to be counted on for advocacy and support is the CASA volunteer.

While working with any teen parent is a challenge, my biggest was being assigned to a 15-year-old mom with anger management and behavioral issues. She routinely had explosive anger episodes, acted disrespectfully, lied and manipulated people. The youth I had worked with previously—while not perfect—treated me with respect, and we got along well. I was a little taken aback to find myself a target for this youth’s anger and deception, particularly when I called her out on bad behavior.

The first few months dealing with her anger were very demanding. At one point I didn’t know if I could continue with the case and had to dig very deep within myself to find the strength to go on. But it struck me that as volunteers we can’t just work with kids who are easy to get along with or who are highly motivated. All foster youth deserve a chance to have the support of a CASA volunteer. So I stuck with it, and at the end of six months I saw small but encouraging signs of positive change.

This young woman, now 20, has come a long way. Her anger management and behavioral issues have all but disappeared. Her transition to independence could have gone a little more smoothly, but she and her 5-year-old daughter live in a safe, stable home, and she is working on her GED and employment.

Looking back over the years, I can see that having a volunteer made a difference to all six youth I’ve worked with—even those who are still struggling to cross the bridge to adult independence. Each youth has told me in her own words that it’s the permanent connection with a stable, caring, non-judgmental adult that means the most to them. You and I often take these relationships for granted, but a foster youth has few if any reliable connections.

I feel extremely fortunate that most of these young women have chosen to stay in touch long past emancipation. These relationships have meant a great deal to me as a volunteer. I’ve realized it’s not only the youth who benefit from the connection. CASA volunteers benefit too!


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Anonymous @ 4/14/2011 10:19:21 AM 
I have a teen girl as well and really appreciate this story and the advice to wait for the connection to come. She has been avoiding my calls and is untrusting of me but she has all the right to be. It does sway you in the first months but you muster up strength wherever you can get it.... like here!
Anonymous @ 4/10/2011 8:24:16 PM 
What a wonderful story! Especially from a person who didn't have years of on the job training as a parent. We don't turn away from our own children when they misbehave, and we shouldn't "drop out" on our CASA kids when they frustrate us. I have been a CASA in Anchorage AK for eleven years and there have been times when I had to look a kid in the eye and tell them "Look I'm not going anywhere".
Anonymous @ 3/4/2011 11:28:03 AM 
Your story is a strong example of CASA volunteers helping our youth and experiencing first hand how wonderful this role of volunteerism is to our society! Thank you for going the extra miles and also sticking with the program! I have been involved with CASA in Contra Costa County for 11 yrs and find it rewarding and a wonderful way to give back to the community! Thanks Ann!
Anonymous @ 2/20/2011 2:50:35 PM 
Thanks for your honesty about working with disrespectful youth with anger & behavior issues. I admire your strength to stick with it even when it's a challenge.
Anonymous @ 2/18/2011 2:45:10 PM 
This is a wonderful testimony to what CASA volunteers are doing! I am encourage to follow along this path! - Debbie in Tucson AZ
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