I met Kiernan, along with other volunteers, last week at a CASA appreciation luncheon. I asked if I could interview him because I was interested in the human side of working with children in emotional and difficult situations. The first thing he said was it is most definitely a human story--at its worst and at its best. "There is no luster here, but the satisfaction of helping children live a better life and grow into healthy adults." Kiernan proceeded to tell me how he and his wife, both retirees with three grown children, 14 grandchildren and 5 great-grandchildren, came to work with CASA four years ago. I hope I do it justice.
Sitting at the breakfast table eating his Cheerios and reading the newspaper, Kiernan saw the CASA "Speak Out" ad with a little girl whose mouth was taped shut. "It touched me, but I put it aside." Same thing the next morning. Thinking "What is this feeling? I don't need any more kids in my life," Kiernan said. "Again, I put it aside." Next morning, no ad. "So, I dug it up, made that call, and went through the training."
His first case involved several siblings taken from a squalid home where both parents were drug-addicts, and the children terribly neglected. After, seeing them through the transition to a children's shelter, he continued to visit and advise the case. Making a trip to the day-care center where one of the little girls attended was the turning point. "She saw me come in, ran and jumped into my arms, and asked 'Are you here to talk to me?'" Kiernan says, "Right then and there I knew it wasn't about not needing more kids in my life, but that these kids needed me in their life."
Kiernan's wife, Jane, soon joined her husband as a CASA volunteer. They call themselves the "Mars and Venus" team as they pair up on three to fours cases a year, each giving their unique human touch. Each case takes about 12-18 months of interaction with the children, courts, caseworkers, foster parents and prospective adopted parents.
By the time the Kiernans receive their assignment from the caseworkers at CASA, the children are in the process of being removed from their homes, the vast majority never returning to their parents. From that moment on, the Kiernans, as all CASA volunteers, become the court's eyes, ears, and mouth as they advocate--like no one else can do--the very best outcome for these children.
CASA has been giving a voice to abused and neglected children in San Antonio as a separate nonprofit entity since 1988. Each year, more than 300 volunteers give a consistent, caring voice to cases representing approximately 1,300 children. Ok, but that's only about 1/3 of the children that are removed from their homes and need representation. What happens to the rest? They don't have anyone to speak for them. Let me repeat. No one speaks for 2/3rds of the children in Bexar County who have been permanently removed from their homes and are placed in the system. As Chris Boyle, CASA Volunteer Manager said, "With advocates, the admittedly over-burdened child-welfare system works better and the children have a much better chance of receiving the services they need and finding a permanent home."
I like this story because it's about listening to your inner voice and taking a risk. Most awesome volunteers start out this way. Next time you see or hear of an abused or neglected child taken from their home, ask yourself 'Who will speak for this child?' Maybe, you can.
Here's a link for more information about CASA
Here's a link to the training schedule
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