The 2019 CASA ROOKIE OF THE YEAR, MIKE QUINN, TAKES TIME TO ANSWER SOME QUESTIONS about what being an advocate for children is all about
Can you tell us, in your own words, about what problem CASA Advocates help to solve?
CPS doesn’t always have the time or resources to put the time into a single case that an Advocate can. I have a case where neither parent wanted to be found, and CPS listed their location as “unknown.” With a little bit of information, a few hours on the internet, and some telephone calls, I was able to find both. In another case, a mom was getting her kids back in monitored return, but she literally had nothing other than some clothing. We helped her find an apartment, get donated furniture delivered, and receive a cash grant to help buy basic kitchen and household supplies.
WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO BECOME A CASA VOLUNTEER?
I asked a friend active in the community if he knew any worthwhile volunteer opportunities. He said “CASA” without a second thought.
HOW DO YOU FEEL ADVOCATES MAKE A DIFFERENCE?
Not one of these kids asked for this to happen to them. All too often, they’re treated like a burden or an afterthought. We’re a friend and give them a voice, and most of all, a commitment to be there for them.
Did you have any reservations about becoming an Advocate?
Yes. When I first learned of the program, I worried it would be something involving trading macaroni art to post on refrigerators. I’m not that kind of guy. But I learned it’s not like that at all.
CAN YOU DESCRIBE HOW YOU FELT WHEN YOU WERE FIRST SWORN IN AS AN ADVOCATE?
Scared to death that I would make a mistake that would negatively impact a kid for the rest of his or her life. Despite CASA’s great training program, it suddenly dawned on me how little I knew.
HOW DID YOU FEEL WHEN YOU TOOK YOUR FIRST CASE?
Completely out of my element. I had no idea how to talk with the parents or work with CPS. Fortunately, I have a great CASA supervisor and the CPS caseworker on my first case was a very patient person.
With so many worthwhile organizations to support, why should others choose to support CASA??
I think the “CASA Speaks for Kids” motto says it all: CASA does speak for kids. These kids feel often abandoned and an after thought in an impersonal system. I think they want know someone is dedicated to them, and only them.
What have you learned about children in foster care?
Many of these kids endured incredible physical or emotional trauma. Many kids older than about 5 live in constant dread that CPS is going to show up unannounced and take them somewhere else. Everything is temporary and they don’t trust anyone. If you have a sibling, you become intensely protective. An adult might dismiss these fears as irrational because “that’s not how the system is supposed to work.” But these kids live with constant worry and sometimes fear, every waking moment; it impacts everything they say, do and think.
What was most surprising to you about the role of an Advocate?
The things that a parent or parents will put a kid through and how fast they have to grow up. A lot of the kids never have the chance to just be kids.
Is there are particular moment or memory that stands out for you?
Yes. My first case when the doctor testified at the trial. Except for his quiet voice, I’ve never experienced so such profound silence in a court room.
Is there an achievement or contribution that you are most proud of?
Being sworn is as a CASA.
What was the biggest challenge you have faced as a child’s Advocate?
Often, parents will set unrealistic expectations with their children on the outcome of the case – making the children believe in something that might never happen. There are a lot of complex dynamics with immediate and extended family that typically put the kiddos in the middle between factions. Helping the kids work through this is crucial. And there are times the ‘system’ can be a bit intransigent or “set in its ways.”
What would you say to someone considering becoming a volunteer Advocate?
Call the office. Take the training. You’ll be glad you did it.
What do you think other people should know about CASA?
There are may ways you can volunteer at CASA, even if maybe you’re not ready or don’t want to be an Advocate. For example, there is a nascent program to help teens navigate through their last years “in the system” and prepare them to be independent adults. It’s called the CASA4Teens program and they have events through the year for which you can volunteer on a short-term basis. You’re still impacting lives!
How has this changed you?
It’s made me a better person. It’s the most rewarding thing I have ever done.
Is there anything else you would like to share with us?
My recipe for Brussels Sprouts. They’re to die for.