Utah CASA 2016 Northern Region Conference

LIGHTS, CASA, ACTION!

A big thank you to those of you who were able to attend the CASA Conference. We had over 130 CASAs and GAL attorney's take time out of their busy lives to attend. It was great to have an opportunity to gather together and learn. Each CASA that attended was given the book, My Orange Duffel Bag, written by our keynote speaker, Sam Bracken.  Sam shared events from his life where people made a difference and changed the direction of his life.  He gave a very moving opening address about why a caring adult is so important and how other people inspired and helped him through the difficulties he faced as a youth.  Over and over again good people stepped in to mentor and guide him.  He feels it is also very important to be grateful and mindful of the good things in our lives.  Most of us were tearful at times and were definitely inspired to be a positive influence with those we interact with.

Following Mr. Bracken, we rotated through three different sessions and heard from a panel of GAL attorneys, a panel of current CASAs with the youth they serve, and also Dr. Brooks Keeshin.  Dr. Keeshin is a childhood trauma expert who taught us about the protocols they use at Primary Children's Safe and Healthy Families which are highly effective.

After dinner, we heard from a juvenile court judge who started as a CASA.  Judge Michie was a practicing corporate attorney in Salt Lake City.  His wife had become a CASA volunteer.  She was so excited about her work that she encouraged him to become a CASA, which he did.  They also eventually became foster parents. There was one case that literally changed the course of his life. One foster child, a little five year old, wanted to save part of his dinner for later, thinking that it would need ot last him many days.  Judge Michie showed the little boy the food available in the refridgerator and cupboards and told him he could eat until he was full.  There would always be enough food for him there.  After tucking their new charge into bed, he heard a little voice as he walked down the hall. This little child was praying for his father.  Praying that his father would be taken care of and would not miss him too much.  At that moment Judge Michie realized how much this little boy loved his father and that no matter how poor his living situation was or the circumstances, he wanted to be with his family.  After much thought, he decided to become a Guardian ad Litem attorney and represent the children who are involved in the Utah court system.  At the time it was quite a cut in pay, but he is forever grateful for this change in his career.  He loves playing a part in improving children's lives.  Overall, the conference was a fantastic opportunity to meet together as CASAs and become renewed and motivated to do the best job we can for these wonderful kids. 

Many of you mentioned that you couldn't attend because of work related conflicts. We would like to be able to allow more CASAs to attend and are considering holding the conference on a Saturday next year. Please help us by filling out the Survey Monkey that was sent out.  You input will help us evaluate and assess this past year and help us to better meet your needs in the coming year. 

We took notes at one of the breakout sessions with Guardian ad Litems answering CASA questions. Keep in mind that each GAL is different and that the material below is the voice of just a few GALs. Here are a few of their responses: 

Q: What information do you find most valuable to receive from CASAs? A: What you heard, saw, felt. What you experience when you are with the child. Your purpose on a case may change and, therefore, so will the information you provide.

Q. After a TPR, can there be any communication between the parents and the child? A: It depends on if an agreement was made with the adoptive family. Usually there are guidelines set by the parties.  Ask the GAL if you have any questions because it will vary case to case.

Q: What would a perfect relationship between the GAL & CASA look like? A: Collaboration for the best interest of the child within a continual and consistent relationship. You are my eyes and ears but not necessarily my voice.

Q: What cautions would you give to CASAs? A: The material we are dealing with is difficult. Not every case ends all “warm and fuzzy”. That does not mean progress has not been made. Be the ONE person that is consistent for this child.

Q: What boundaries do you see CASAs crossing? A: Let the GAL be the “bad guy”. Your role is to be the supportive and calming presence and to gain the family’s trust. Do not grant permission for things (ex. a teen who wants to dye their hair or get a piercing). Do not keep secrets for the child or family that the GAL needs to know. Be cautious of who you get close to (besides the child) because the case may change as will the relationships with those involved.

Q: What would you recommend to improve the relationship between the CASA and other professionals on the case? A: Be present! Let the professionals know you take it seriously. Send reports and stay in contact with those involved. Use credible, current, and specific facts. Remember that you are an agent of the GAL office. When in doubt, talk to the GAL and your coordinator.

Q. Exactly what is the roll of a CASA in a CFTM? A: Certainly be more of a gatherer of information than a disseminator. Though CFTM’s are portrayed as confidential, they aren’t really as comments spoken are frequently heard later. So be careful when adding comments. Absent specific instructions by a GAL, a CASA may not necessarily give accurate information regarding concerns or positions at a CFTM. A CFTM should be more about the family and how they are progressing in their services and what needs the child has. It is best for the GAL to present, but in their absence, the CASA should just take notes.

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Group of CASA from Logan, Utah