Thursday, May 21, 2015

Doesn't CASA Mean "House" in Spanish?

Do you know what a CASA is? If you were like me, I had heard of a CASA, but really had not idea what they actually did.

My CASA Class. One of these things is not like the others.

Let's start with the basics; CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocate. Let's get a little deeper. The following is taken directly from the CASA website.

Every day in this country, 1,900 children become victims of abuse or neglect, and four of them will die every day. Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) for Children is a network of 950 community-based programs that recruit, train and support citizen-volunteers to advocate for the best interests of abused and neglected children in courtrooms and communities. Volunteer advocates - empowered directly by the courts - offer judges the critical information they need to ensure that each child's rights and needs are being attended to while in foster care.
Volunteers stay with children until they are placed in loving permanent homes. For many abused children, a CASA volunteer is the only constant adult presence in their lives. 
In the county that I (Matt) live, Elkhart County (in Indiana), there are over 100 children who do not have a CASA. It is a great need to make sure that all children have someone who is committed to having their best interest in mind. As a CASA you have an amazing opportunity to advocate for neglected and abused children to help ensure that the child is placed into a safe and permanent home as soon as possible.

There are 950 CASA programs in 49 states, so chances are, there is one near you. You do go through special training to help prepare you to be a CASA. If you are interested in becoming a CASA go to their website and look for the local CASA program in your area. You truly can help make a difference in the lives of children in your community.

Being sworn in by the Magistrate.

Monday, May 18, 2015

How Going to the "Wrong" Conference Was the Right Thing

On April 10th, 2015 I walked, unintentionally, into a new view of my entire life and the lives of others.

The Empowered To Connect Simulcast target audience was to people who take care of adopted or foster children coming from hard places - abuse, neglect or troubled births. 

I am a single professional who's life and work deal with other professionals, but...I'm a board member of Village to Village International.  So, other than a connection to non-profit that helps children...I had no business being there.

I was wrong.

I walked away from the conference with not only a deeper compassion for all children, but all who would grow up from childhood...all people.  I saw myself in a new way.  I saw my history, my story, in a new way.  And I could understand others in a new way.

Sounds a bit grandiose.  Let me explain.

My biggest takeaway was a section they called the Attachment Dance.  In my amateur view, attachment is a psychological and relational term describing how the manner in which a primary caregiver (mother or father) consistently treats a child has significant and long lasting effects on how that child sees themselves and treats others all the way into adulthood.  

As we went through the four types of attachment: Secure, Avoidant, Ambivalent and Disorganized (I’m not going to get into specifics here), I saw that I was a classic example of one in particular ...and it wasn't the ideal (secure attachment is ideal).

Immediately upon realizing how I fit that style I saw relationships with friends, family, colleagues and clients in new ways.  What was just a mass of historical events, started to form into a coherent pattern that made much more sense.  That one concept gave me an understanding, a language, to better navigate and express relational challenges, blindspots and inclinations that I didn't have access to before.

I put it this way.  Imagine I have a favorite restaurant I go to every week year after year.  I sit down, they hand me a menu, I order, eat, pay and leave.  Then, one day, I discover that the restaurant has 3 other menus!  For years, I paid no attention to the variety of food I'd seen others order because that's what a menu was for, variety.  But what does it mean that many (most?) were ordering from a completely different menu?   They didn't simply choose things different than my normal preferences, they had choices I didn't have.  And therefore, I had choices they didn't have.  My menu was spartan, the food was consistently bland, but it had the calories I needed to get on with my life.  Another menu had a well-balanced, flavorful fare.  Still another had foods that were either 3 stars or a step above garbage.  And finally there was a menu with where some of the foods were poisoned, you just didn't know which ones.  

Knowing people were choosing from wildly different menus, would that not change how you’d see EVERY outing at that restaurant?  Would that not make you view the restaurant experience in a new way?  Would people’s responses to the food and the restaurant itself start to make more sense?

It is the same with relationships.

Ultimately, my experience at the ETC Simulcast opened me up to greater compassion and understanding of others so I can be a better uncle, friend, brother, son, colleague, professional...and that means I will have better relationships and those who interact with me will do so also.   

And to think, I just went there expecting some interesting information on adoption and foster care.

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