An Interview with Susan, by Alli Stephens
This month, we invite you meet Susan Truscott! Susan has been an Advocate for CASA Child Advocates of Montgomery County since June of 2018, and her first case recently closed. She stopped by our office as she was preparing to take her second case to answer a few questions.
How did you First hear about CASA?
It was through my work at the Consulate that I first became aware of CASA; I was providing Consular support to a British National in Texas. He had two young children with his American ex-wife (including one with special needs) who had been taken into care and were appointed a CASA Advocate.
His children’s Advocate met with him, and eventually he was granted visitation with his children. He would call or write to me after every meeting or visitation and was full of praise for the Advocate. After several months of visitations and then a supervised return, he was awarded custody of his children. I had contact with CASA in a few other cases during my time at the Consulate but none impacted me in quite the same way as this one, hearing from the father of their positive impact in his life and that of his children.
What made you decide to become a casa volunteer?
Fast forward a couple of years and, long story short, I had to stop work at the Consulate so we could switch from my diplomatic visa to my husband’s work visa so we could then apply for permanent residency, which we now have. I wanted to give back to this community that had welcomed us so warmly so decided to volunteer with CASA, having seen first-hand the positive impact they can have on families. I also knew that my skills from the diplomatic service were perfectly aligned with being an Advocate and supporting those most in need. It seemed like a no-brainer! Public service and supporting people through difficult and challenging times are what motivate me.
How do you feel Advocates make a difference?
Advocates really get to know the children, their families and the case from all angles – we are not just looking at ticking boxes, or the simple facts of the case, but looking at the case as a whole to determine what really is best for the children.
Can you describe how you felt when you were first sworn in as an Advocate?
I remember being incredibly proud when I was sworn in at Court – and ready to start having an impact, having studiously read all the excellent training material. Being an Advocate is a big responsibility, but I was ready to step on up and do my best.
How did you feel when you took your first case?
When I took my first case I was naturally a little nervous as it’s a big responsibility, but I knew I had the background and training to do a good job, plus the support of my fantastic CASA supervisor, Debbie. I got straight on in there and was able to meet with the children that night in their foster home before attending court the following day, which helped enormously. Then for me it was a case of taking it day by day, speaking to CPS, lawyers, therapists, teachers, reading the case file and following up on medical appointments etc and, most importantly, building up a relationship with the children and their parents. I attended as many visitations as possible to give myself a better understanding of the dynamics between the children and their parents.
Is there a particular memory or moment that stands out for you?
After attending some additional CASA training, I spent my next visit with my CASA children utilizing TBRI (Trust-Based Relational Intervention) and CFE (Collaborative Family Engagement) strategies and was amazed (and shocked) by the additional disclosures that I got from the children. [These approaches really work] and helped me to be a better Advocate for their needs.
Is there a contribution or achievement of which you are especially proud?
I think the time when I truly understood the impact of CASA was when our case went to mediation and we reached an agreement in the best interests of the children. Before this, I had met with CPS and lawyers and discussed options and understood the legal limitations were we to go to trial. I truly believe that CASA’s input at mediation, following consultation with many interested parties including therapists, and supported by CPS (Child Protective Services) and the AAL (Attorney Ad Litem), fundamentally changed for the better the agreement that we reached that day. CASA has an important voice to speak for the best interests of the children and we should not underestimate how valuable or influential we are.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced as a Child Advocate?
One of my biggest challenges as an Advocate was not having gone to school in the USA or having had children attend school here, so the education system was all new to me.
What would you say to someone who is considering becoming a volunteer Advocate?
To anyone considering becoming an Advocate, I would say reach out to CASA and find out more and then do it! It truly is such a rewarding experience and if you grew up here and understand the school system, you’re already ahead of where I was when I became an Advocate!!!
Is there anything else we should’ve talked about, but haven’t so far? What else would you like for people to know?
I’m also on the CASA Gala Committee, so if anyone knows of anyone who would be willing to donate anything to our silent auction, please reach out to me or our Gala Chair, Lindsay Miller. And please come and attend the Gala – it was such a fun night last year and we are hoping to raise even more money this year!