Spring is in the air, and so is a wave of transition and change. We all adjust ourselves to the warmer weather and face looming pre-summer deadlines, but on the whole, transition is a calm, expected part of life. Not so lucky are the many children in our own county who face countless uncontrollable transitions every day, from being shuffled between schools to being shuffled between homes. The level of uncertainty these children face is unimaginable for most of us, but for CASA advocate Nicole Clark, 31, it is a reality she sees in her casework regularly.
“Things get misplaced in the many transitions,” Clark said of children in foster care who she serves as a CASA.
“In school, they deal with homework, then there’s STARR testing coming up, and then there are medical concerns like keeping up with glasses.”
Often-times children in care are facing transitions that keep them from succeeding in school. Clark explained the importance of recognizing the needs of children in care that might otherwise fall through the cracks.
“Child Protective Services does everything they can, but having a CASA means someone is paying attention to those children on an individual level.”
CASA provides an important opportunity for these children: nearly one on one attention throughout their entire time removed from their homes. When a child on one of her two cases celebrated a birthday recently, Clark mentioned how valuable CASA was to the child. Along with another advocate assigned to the case, Clark made sure that the birthday was personalized and special to the child.
“[The child] was just ecstatic to get gifts from people who really knew [the child],” Clark said. “Most of the time if a child in care gets a birthday present, it’s something out of a grab bag, but we were able to give [the child] something special and personal.”
Clark’s Casework Supervisor, Amanda Spharler, considers Clark a model advocate at CASA.
“Nicole is a dynamo,” Spharler said. “She never stops asking what she could do to improve the child’s situation, and then takes action to make it happen.”
Being a great advocate means more than being able to build a great rapport with the child. In regards to Clark’s role as an advocate in court, Spharler reiterated that Clark has been an incredibly effective volunteer with CASA throughout both of the cases she has taken thus far.
“Nicole has great instincts when considering the best interest of the child, and although she isn’t afraid to speak her mind, she is very thoughtful about remaining neutral instead of siding with the adult parties in the case,” Spharler said. “She never forgets she is there for the child.”
While some advocates are unable to continue to help children following the closure of a case, Clark has taken the initiative to identify how she can continue to help the children she served in her last case. Clark maintains a prominent role as an advocate for the children who need her.
“She has visited schools, talked to counselors, helped her kids explore college options, and has even taken a teen to tour colleges after she was no longer the CASA on the case,” Spharler said,
While clear to outsiders that Clark is a standout volunteer, Clark herself maintains that her role as an advocate comes from a place of understanding her own advantages in life.
“I look at my life and my own family and I realize that we’re so blessed,” Clark said. “It’s not a child’s fault that he or she is in this situation.”
The children served by CASA face uncertainty and possibly stressful transitions during their time in care, but CASA’s advocates, like Clark, provide a single constant upon which these children can always rely.
“Every child needs someone looking out for them,” Clark said. “That’s why I do this.”