Auditor an advocate for children in local court system

Katie and her dog Cleo.

Katie and her dog Cleo.

By day Katie McCormick works in the Internal Audit department of KinderCare Education. After work she does something else entirely: she advocates on behalf of children in the Multnomah County foster care system in Portland, Ore. McCormick shares her story below and encourages others to volunteer for children in their communities.

Outside of my daily job of auditing multiple internal functions at the NSC, I have another role as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) that involves the welfare of children; however this job is completely voluntary and takes place mainly in a court room.

A CASA advocate is the tireless and passionate protector of a child who has been abused or neglected and is going through the trauma of the foster care system. The advocates are granted tremendous authority by the court, and are able to do what it takes to see that a child is not ignored, their best interests and critical needs are addressed, and that the presiding judge is able to understand the true facts of a child’s condition in an over-burdened child welfare system. CASAs are in a unique position to work in the system without being in the system (as they are not paid state employees).

The state of Oregon is in the top three for states as far as number of foster children per capita.

Throughout the advocacy process, CASAs have permission to visit the child regularly and to talk to the child’s parents and foster parents, teachers, caseworkers, doctors, and therapists in order to hear all perspectives and give an unbiased portrayal of the case to the judge. CASA advocates help kids move through the foster care system safely, quickly, and more effectively.

I was officially sworn in as a CASA in October 2014, after two-and-a-half months of attending a weekly evening training class. A Multnomah County judge swore in our graduating class with a few encouraging words about how much our work can help a child find a permanent home sooner rather than later.

CASA_Centered4Color with ColumbiaThe trainers do their best to preparing advocates for the variety of foster children cases that lie ahead, and the level of involvement in an assigned case. However, there is not much that can prepare you for the potential bond you will form with the children you’re advocating for and their unique personalities that create a variety of needs. It’s an advocate’s job to ensure each child’s best interests are met in their temporary living situation.

I have been a CASA for a little over a year now with the same three children: siblings (a 17-year-old boy, a 15-year-old girl, and a 10-year-old girl) who live in Gresham, Ore. Their parents have been incarcerated since 2010 (and the children have had four different foster care placements within the past five years, sometimes together in one home, sometimes not. Overall my CASA children are happy, creative, outgoing individuals who truly desire to be like every other child and have some stability in their life. My main role in this case is advocating for tutoring, extracurricular activities, and family therapy meetings in which the children can voice their thoughts and concerns about their current placement while in the presence of a support group.

The goal for foster children is to get them out of the system as soon as possible, whether that is seeking adoption or permanency back with their parents (after certain measures take place proving the parent can provide a safe and healthy environment). This is the case with most foster children, and that is why the role of the CASA is so vital to making that happen.

The CASA is the voice of the child in the court room stating what needs to happen in order for the case to be settled and/or for the children to live healthy stable lives until they reach age of independence; in this role the CASA also holds the Department of Human Services (DHS) caseworker accountable and in many ways is the mediator between the state and the child.

Unfortunately, there are so many cases, especially in the state of Oregon, which means DHS caseworkers are often overloaded, generally juggling 40 cases at one time. This makes the need for a CASA even more critical, as each CASA is assigned one case at a time.

Being a CASA volunteer is very doable as long as your communication is good with your manager and you dedicate free time about once every two weeks to CASA activities. It has truly been one of the most rewarding responsibilities I have ever had!

How to volunteer:
If you’re interested in becoming a CASA, please consider attending an orientation meeting to learn more about the program, the advocate process, and CASA responsibilities. (Visit the CASA website for details about meeting times and locations.) Those in the Portland area can also email sking@casahelpskids.org for more information.

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