I saw a picture today that reminded me why I have come to love the work I do and the staff and CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) volunteers that stand on the front line. It was a picture of a 16-year-old child who has been in foster care for more than five years. He was standing side by side with a woman half his size, posing for a selfie.

If you were introduced to his file before meeting him, you might be intimidated. To see the list of placement disruptions, behavioral issues and, at one point, criminal allegations, you would want go in the opposite direction, but not the woman with him in the picture. Instead, she works to stand beside him. When he runs, she chases after him. When he feels lost, she works to find him.

Who is this woman? Well, it is not who you would expect. It is not his mother or sister. It is not even his grandmother, aunt or cousin. It is his CASA volunteer. Today, like many other days, she has come to visit him at a new placement. It took her two hours to get there, but she had to let him know that she was still standing by his side.

She didn’t let on how sad she felt to see how bare his room was in comparison to the other children.

She knows he is aware that the other children’s families send resources and pictures to make their rooms feel like home. So, she is already making a mental note to call her advocate supervisor to ask what can be done, considering the number of family members he has contact with has dwindled to zero. He is not happy about his new placement, but she will attempt to encourage him to think positively, as many times before. In the midst of it all, they decide to snap a picture.

Unfortunately, this is a picture that you will never see due to confidentiality, but I will share what you missed. You missed a rare smile from a child who does not always feel he has something to smile about, standing next to an everyday hero who, in spite of having very little in common with him, has decided to stand beside and be a voice for him. While this is not always what shows up in grant reports and service outcomes, this is what is most meaningful to the children we serve. Our CASA volunteers represent someone who cares for them and their struggles.

This child’s journey will continue, and we don’t know how the story will end. However, we are incredibly grateful for the CASA that stands beside him. We offer our sincerest gratitude to all of our CASA volunteers for your acts of love, sacrifice and community involvement. Your service truly does make a difference.

If you are interested in becoming a voice for a child, I encourage you to contact Child Advocacy Services at (800) 798-1575 or visit our website at childadv.net to learn more.

Lakisha Hills

CASA program director, Child Advocacy Services

Hammond