For several years, my wife and I were grateful to be able to contribute a small measure of financial support to CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) for Children, the 501c(3) organization dedicated to training and providing volunteers to advocate for children who became wards of the judicial system due to abuse or neglect. This program works primarily with the Multnomah and Washington circuit courts but there are CASA programs in every county in Oregon. I found myself wanting to become a volunteer CASA, but a busy law practice (business litigation) and a young family (now 4½ and 6 years old) dissuaded me. Finally, two years ago, I decided there would never be a perfect time, and I volunteered to train as a CASA in the spring of 2004. I was surprised how easy it was to schedule the 35 or so hours of training over some two months, and completed my CASA training two years ago in March.
Within days of being sworn in, I was assigned a case in Multnomah County involving two young boys who were taken into foster care a year earlier. Judge Nan Waller had the case and thought a CASA was needed to be her "eyes and ears" into the dynamic relationships involving the Oregon Department of Human Services, biological mom and dad, foster parents and, most importantly, the children themselves. I am happy to report that, after three and a half years of court and DHS wardship, the case is nearing conclusion and the boys have been successfully reunited with their family.
While being a lawyer is by no means necessary in order to become a CASA, having some familiarity with the judicial system and comfort being in a court setting helps. Above all, a CASA needs a measure of common sense, a fondness for children, and a desire to help speak for the needs of youngsters who are thrust into the system by no fault of their own. Being allowed to advocate for young people with little voice of their own has been a privilege and honor — and certainly the most rewarding contribution I have ever made.
When I speak to bar colleagues about being a CASA, I find a high incidence of curiosity, which is not surprising, given the interest in public service most of us lawyers have and put to such good use in a myriad of community activities. I commend CASA for your consideration, particularly for those of you who have raised (or are still parenting) kids of your own. I can assure you of three things: 1) the time commitment is much less than you might imagine; 2) your training and experience as a lawyer perfectly suits being an effective CASA and 3) you will never do anything more gratifying and fulfilling as a volunteer.
If you are interested in CASA, either as a potential volunteer or for a worthwhile charitable donation, you may visit the website at casahelpskids.org. There is a link to inquire about volunteerism, but I welcome your calls at (503) 241-0570, as would Becky Smith, the statewide coordinator for CASA, at (503) 378-5151.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gary Grenley is a Portland lawyer.
© 2006 Gary Grenley