As I sat down with the mother whose child had just been removed to gather information, it was clear that she hadn’t heard much of what the judge said after he stated, “I am placing your child in the custody of the State of Tennessee.”
After the hearing was concluded and we were all sitting in a small meeting room, I began explaining who DCS and the GAL were as well as introducing myself as CASA staff. The mother looked at me and said, “I have no clue what any of that means!” We, those involved in the system every day, seem to forget the terminology we use is like a foreign language to other people. In a sense, being in court for a case and having the judge issue not so pleasant news is like going to the ER because you are sick and having the doctor give you the diagnosis and rattle off all the medication you need and what it’s all for…….You can’t remember it all! The difference with ER is you leave the hospital with discharge papers and a plan of treatment immediately. Unfortunately, that is not the case with juvenile court; yes, the judge gives his orders but no one is there to write everything down for the parents and they walk away feeling defeated and no clue as to the next steps. All they hear are those dreadful words, “your child is going into state custody” and from that point on it is BLA, BLA, BLA because you as a parent totally zone out.
At this point, CASA staff/volunteers can explain the role of each person involved and the benefit of having a CASA as a part of the case. There may even be some relief at this point, but that’s not always the case. You see, CASA has one mission and one mission only…….the best interest of the child! If the parent is what’s best then CASA could become an ally that parent has however if that parent is not doing what is required or completing the plan, I promise, CASA will be the first to let the courts know.
As this particular mother was returned to the jail by the bailiff I was still unsure as to whether or not she understood everyone’s role. But the one thing I knew was that the judge did what he felt was needed to provide protection for this precious child and it included making a referral to the CASA program.
Only weeks and months to come will tell what is most important to these parents; their prescription drug abuse or their dear child. But what will not change is CASA will be watching and advocating for this child’s best interest…BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT CASA DOES!!!