In mid-December, CASA of Kent County threw a festive holiday party, bringing together court-appointed special advocates and the kids and teens they support. It was a joyous occasion filled with games, face painting, crafts, and of course, pizza.
By Laura, Court Appointed Special Advocate
This year, I completed my first CASA case as a volunteer. I can confidently say that serving as a CASA has been one of the best experiences and biggest honors of my life.
I pursued training as a Court Appointed Special Advocate when I made a career change and left the field of education. I knew I needed an outlet for my teacher heart, and CASA seemed like the perfect fit.
An unlikely duo
As a former third grade teacher, I imagined I would advocate for a younger child. When presented with the opportunity to take the case of a teen girl, Caroline*, I was worried that a high schooler would not be the right fit. In all honesty, I was afraid I wasn’t going to be “cool” enough.
I remember meeting Caroline for the first time at her school counselor’s office. I was nervous. During that initial meeting, Caroline bravely confided in me that she was thinking about taking her own life. From that moment on, I was fiercely invested in this soon to be sixteen-year-old. I wanted her to know I was there for her. I wanted her to know she was valuable and that I was someone who cared for her because I wanted to – not because I had to. Caroline slowly let me in to her world, her pain, and her story.
The chance to be a teen
I quickly learned we shared a love for Starbucks coffee and shopping. To foster a sense of trust and stability, I committed to spending time with her weekly. Those hang outs served as the foundation for what is now a lasting friendship. Caroline allowed me to not only accompany her on one of the most difficult chapters of her life, but she also allowed me to be her voice – what a profound responsibility.
Caroline and I decided on alphabet themed hangouts that took us from having appetizers at Applebee’s, to Festival of the Arts in downtown Grand Rapids, to our favorite: Skyzone Trampoline Park. (Yes, this middle-aged woman has the pictures to prove it!) We went out to dinner, we got her nails done, we went shopping. We talked on the phone, we laughed together, and she teased me mercilessly!
Friend and advocate
Caroline’s case however was not all fun, games and Instagram-worthy outings. There was grief, fear, multiple moves, police reports, tears, forensic investigations, countless counseling appointments, school transfers, and attorney visits. This was a messy chapter in a vulnerable teen’s life. I wanted to take her pain away – but I couldn’t; so, I held on to my role as her advocate. I told her I was her voice to the system – to the judge.
One unique thing about Caroline’s case is the amazing friendship I formed with her foster parents. They were very open to my role of advocating for Caroline, and they viewed me as a vital part of her team.
A forever family
This past July, Caroline’s case was officially closed, and she was adopted by her foster parents. To be allowed to play a role in the creation of their forever family will always be one of the biggest privileges of my life.
*Names and details have been changed to protect confidentiality.
To read more about Caroline’s story, click here.
To read Caroline’s story from the perspective of her foster and adoptive father, John, click here.
Here’s a bit of our story. For starters, we never would’ve had a chance to be Caroline’s parents without Laura.
Caroline sat in her high school counselor’s office with her hoodie pulled tightly around her face, as if it could protect her from the rest of the...
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