Megan Mondays: The Next Chapter

megan-mondays2My morning alarm goes off, I sit up in bed and as my feet hit the floor I know whether I am ready to take on the day or if it is going to be a struggle. As I start my way downstairs, I begin to think about what is on my “plate” for the day. Appointments, meetings, reports, phone calls, etc. Is the day going to be typical, special or challenging? Is it a “mission impossible day” or one “full of possibilities?” I learned early on my journey with CASA that it was better if I chose to start my day with a positive outlook because most days the mission of CASA felt impossible.

I was really naïve about the plight of children, the struggles families faced and the dysfunction of the system when I joined the CASA staff 15 years ago. Newborn babies were being placed in foster care, teenagers were running from it and some children were dying before the state intervened. At times, it felt like things were happening at lightning speed in system that was cumbersome, confusing and wound tightly in red tape. Early on, I remember sitting at my desk feeling overwhelmed, disillusioned and defeated and then I met our CASA volunteers and all that changed. 

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Caleb, 6 months old

file0001085844019_cropCaleb was six months old when he was placed into foster care with a caring relative. Both of Caleb’s parents abused Methamphetamines, and Caleb was born drug-affected. He had a hard time sleeping because his muscles were tightly wound from the drugs, and once in foster care he began physical therapy.

Andrea was appointed to be Caleb’s CASA volunteer. She visited him regularly and monitored everything going on in his life, talking to counselors and researching the effects of Meth on infants. Child Welfare wanted to close Caleb’s case early on, but Andrea was adamant that his parents needed more time to become stable. The court agreed with Andrea. This extra time was critical in helping the mother and father to build their circles of support and mature as parents.

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Megan Mondays: Behind Every Number is a Child

numbers-151354_640A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to be a part of a panel presentation at the City Club of Eugene.  The topic was “Changing Lives in Juvenile Court.” The presenter included our juvenile court judge, a caseworker from child protective services and me.  I began my presentation with the statistics below because I believe they are a powerful and provide critical context to any conversation about child abuse.

I believe that by the time a child ends up on the doorsteps of a foster home there have been multiple failures of our systems, our community and the adults that are responsible for keeping children safe.  There is not a person or a specific system that bears the entire burden or blame.  This is everyone’s problem collectively and individually.  We are all responsible to keep all children safe.  We can and we must do better, before child protective services is called to intervene; and, then, we must do everything in our power to get children out of the system as quickly and as safely as possible. Educating ourselves about the realities of families who are struggling and/or unable to keep their children safe is critical.  It is also important to understand what happens when systems and support fail and children and youth end up in juvenile dependency court.

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Meet Joanne Pedersen, CASA Volunteer

Pederson, JoannePassion, dedication and a commitment to her CASA kid is what makes Joanne Pedersen an ideal CASA volunteer. After witnessing what children in foster care go through in the court system, Joanne knew she was meant to be a CASA.

Who is Joanne Pedersen?

Joanne Pedersen is a full-time Practice Manager at Willamette Dental Group. She has a warm smile and an infectious laugh. She is an avid reader and enjoys spending time with her family and friends.

Why did Joanne become a CASA volunteer?

Joanne feels that working in the dental field has a lot of rewards, but she wanted to do something that would make a difference in the life of a child.  Joanne says, “I started working in the dental field to pay for graduate school, but I always envisioned that I would work with children. CASA gives me the opportunity to focus on kids.”

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Meet Kelsey Beyer, CASA Volunteer

KelseyBeyerBetween caring for family, working full time, speaking at numerous CASA events, and being a Peer Coordinator, Kelsey Beyer is busy but she wouldn’t have it any other way. She tells us she is going to volunteer for CASA until she is 100 years old!

Who is Kelsey Beyer?

Kelsey is a full-time Practice Manager at Willamette Dental Group. She also helps to care for her 92 year old grandmother and is helping to raise her teenage niece. Kelsey is not one to say no to helping others. Recently, a friend called and asked her to help catch a stray cat and her litter of kittens. Kelsey found herself with a flashlight at 11 p.m. searching neighborhood bushes for the cat and kittens.

Kelsey has been a CASA volunteer since 2010 and a Peer Coordinator (PC) for the last 4 years. PCs are experienced CASAs who have been trained to coach a small team of CASA volunteers. They provide support and direction when needed. Kelsey says, “As a PC, you’re coaching and cheerleading so that the CASA doesn’t feel alone on their case and has the support she/he needs.” PCs also provide back-up in the event that a CASA is unable to attend a meeting or a hearing due to illness or scheduling conflicts.

Why did Kelsey become a CASA volunteer?

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Megan Mondays: Passing the Torch

megan-mondays2I have always said I would know when it was time to leave CASA.  I’ve determined that the time is now. After fifteen inspiring, challenging and meaningful years at the helm of CASA, it is time for me to move on.  It was a difficult decision to make because I LOVE CASA.  I love the mission and all the people who are committed to our community’s most vulnerable children.

And, it is difficult to leave because the work is not finished. There are still hundreds of children in Lane County that are caught in the bureaucratic system we call child protective services. They do not have the powerful voice of a Court Appointed Special Advocate.The burden of advocating for these children continues to weigh heavily on my shoulders and my heart.  

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The Buzz

beehiveI walked into work today and the office felt like a beehive of activity.  The energy level was through the roof and it was only 8:00 a.m.  When talking about CASA, I often say, “I need your time and/or your money.”  Ultimately, it is my responsibility to ensure we have the funds we need to support the mission and the volunteers we need to deliver the program.

Volunteers are a diverse group.  Some people want to be in the trenches. They make the commitment to CASA training and the subsequent ten to fifteen volunteer hours a month for at least two years.  These are the people who can give their time to be a Court Appointed Special Advocate volunteer.  They have big shoes to fill because they are the volunteers that carry out the critical mission of CASA, one case at a time.  They are the volunteers that people think about when they hear the word “CASA.” 

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