Casilda Provencio, a volunteer since August 2013, says her satisfaction comes when kids are in a safe place and doing well.
“I just love the time with the kids!”
Doreen Gallegos, Mesilla Valley CASA Executive Director, with their signature ladies team.
When a case goes to court regarding a child in foster care, there are a lot of people involved: parents and guardians, other family members, lawyers and social workers. But who in these cases is speaking directly on behalf of the child? How does the child get to convey his/her own wants and needs without influence or bias? That’s where Mesilla Valley CASA comes in.
Mesilla Valley CASA is a non-profit agency that’s part of the National CASA association. CASA, which stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates, recruits, trains, supervises, and supports community volunteers to advocate for children in court.
“Each of our volunteers is assigned to a child or sibling group in foster care,” explains Mesilla Valley CASA Program Director Brandie White. “It’s the job of the volunteer to get to know every aspect of what’s going on in that kiddo’s life. They interview teachers, therapists, and foster parents. They interact with the child and observe visits between the parents and kids. Once they collect all that info, they put it in a report for the judge with recommendations on how to keep the case moving forward. In court, parents and attorneys get their say, but kids don’t always have that same opportunity to have their perspective heard.”
Mesilla Valley CASA is run by a staff of just three fulltime employees who currently oversee 70 community volunteers. Volunteers must complete 30 hours of training held over a four-day period, but they are not required to have a special background or any experience working with children. Brandie says all they ask is that you have a passion for helping children and willingness to commit the time, which averages out to about 10 hours per month. An ability to work independently is also helpful. “There’s only three of us for all the volunteers. We do provide support, but we need people who can find their own way and be a self-starter,” she adds.
Brandie is quick to point out that being an advocate is different than being a mentor. CASA advocates don’t play basketball with the children or take them to the movies. Their purpose is to collect information so everybody is accurately informed about what is going on with the child. “We’re the connective tissue in the case,” she says. “Nationally, CASA is known as the eyes and ears of the court.”
While the work CASA does is difficult, it’s also extremely rewarding. Brandie says the best part of her job is seeing a case closed with a child placed in a home that’s supportive, safe, and permanent.
“We do what we do to make sure kids are in safe, stable homes,” she notes. “It completely fills my heart when a volunteer has worked through an entire case—which can go on for months or even up to two years—they’ve dealt with all the difficult things they have to hear about child abuse; they’ve been through numerous meetings when they are the only person in the room with a different point of view; and I’m thinking they must be so burnt out at this point they’ll never do it again, yet they come to me and say, ‘Brandie, I’m ready for my next case.’”
Want to Become a CASA Volunteer Advocate?
If you’d like to volunteer or make a financial contribution, visit mesillavalleycasa.org or call Brandie White at 575-527-0035. To learn more about the National CASA association, visit casaforchildren.org.