CAC Volunteer Laura
Question: Why did you want to volunteer for Child Advocates/CASA of SW Connecticut?
Answer: I wanted to be a volunteer because I have been interested in child welfare for a long time. I have three children who are at an age now that allows me to have some time to contribute my time and efforts. Through my children I have learned the importance of advocating for what a child needs individually and have realized that when given the tools that they need, children can thrive or at minimum have a better outcome than when they do not have help. Children who are in a difficult family situation have an even greater need for stronger supports and I felt that I could potentially positively impact some of these children so I signed up. I do believe that many times people are able to provide resources to an organization or charity to help but it is truly a privilege to be able to actually participate in the process personally and I think an important lesson to pass on to my children – get involved and make yourself available to others.
Question: What was the most gratifying/self rewarding experience you’ve had as a volunteer?
Answer: In one case I have had the opportunity to visit the child in her foster home, which is likely to become her adoptive home. I also spent time with her biological mother and it was very gratifying to see that this child is likely going to end up in a loving, adoptive home which will likely change the trajectory of her life. She doesn't even realize that her life was significantly affected by 2 people who were willing to open their home and heart to a child in need and I am lucky that I am able to see this happening.
Question: What was the most difficult challenge you’ve faced while volunteering?
Answer: When I first began as a volunteer, the most challenging thing was acclimating to the process, language, positions and roles. People who work in this area are familiar with the acronyms, roles, court procedures and process and though they were all willing to stop and explain things to me, I had to really admit I didn't know things and ask for help. It was difficult to acknowledge that I was the person who knew the least but I was trying to be effective as quickly as I could. Since each case is unique it makes it less predictable to know the outcome so all I can do is continue to learn as much as I can as I move along.
Question: Statistics show that the child’s academic performance can suffer throughout the transition to a safer home. How do you think this issue can be best dealt with?
Answer: I think children should have more access to in-school supports when in this situation. Even children without diagnosed learning differences are going to experience periods of anxiety, stress, lack of concentration, changes in diet and sleep habits when dealing with changing homes and these children should receive accommodations and/or modifications in their school work to take into account what is happening outside of school. That being said, it can only happen when those involved with the case are involved at the school level and there are teachers and administrators who support this position. I have worked closely with many members of a local school district and was very impressed by their willingness to reach out to the students, offer support and additional services to provide additional help.
Question: How has your life changed since being a volunteer?
Answer: I have learned a lot about my community, issues faced by many families in the area and how slowly the systems in place can respond to these needs. The biggest benefit I recognize since I have been a volunteer is learning to look at things from a strength-based perspective. We did an exercise during our pre-service training where we looked at a picture and had to identify strengths and at first glance I really saw none. Only after training and discussion did I realize that the presence of fruit, books, games, pets, electricity, etc. are all strengths that can be attributed to a family. I now try to use this filter in looking at other aspects of life.
Question: How have the children you’ve worked with had an impact on your life?
Answer: The biggest lesson I have learned is that everyone's individual perspective is different and you can't look at someone else's life, circumstances, decisions, choices through your own lens. You have to seek out strengths in the family you are dealing with and advocate not based on what you would do, but rather on what would work for this family. The other realization is that I am not going to make someone's life necessarily good or 'fixed' in what I do. I may only have the ability to make it somewhat better. People are in their circumstances for a variety of reasons, some easily understandable and some mindblowingly not, but within those circumstances you can't fix it all.
Question: How has CAC as an organization impacted you?
Answer: CAC has given me a wonderful place to be involved in the lives of children in the child protection system and do my small part to try to help. I have met some wonderful, caring and involved people who have dedicated their careers to helping families in difficult situations and I have been inspired by many of these people - especially my CAC Program Director. Sometimes when in a meeting for a case I can't get over the number of people collected in a room to try to help a child and improve some aspect of his/her life