One woman’s own experience with the foster care system has led her to help other kids in foster care in Carson City.
Melanie Emery started working with the Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA, nearly two years ago when she and her family moved from Sacramento to Carson City. The Emery family’s three children were all adopted through the foster care system in California, and Emery said she had heard about how active CASA was in Carson City and decided to look into helping.
“When we went through the foster care system, it was eye-opening and heart breaking because the problem (of the foster care system) almost seems so overwhelming and maybe I can’t fix the whole problem,” she said. “But I can make a difference in that one child’s life.”
Emery said, in her opinion, the problem with foster care is there are so many broken children and so few social workers, it’s hard to meet the needs of all the kids. That’s where CASA comes in. CASA is an organization comprised of volunteer advocates who work with foster kids who go to court to work as a voice for the children. The advocates get only a few cases at a time and work to get to know the children and their situation and then give the courts their recommendation for the child to get them the best possible help.
“Our job is basically when foster kids go to court and to report to the judge to tell them what you believe is best for the child,” Emery said. “The gist is for the CASA volunteer becomes as familiar as possible with the case.
“We need to make sure that child is as cared for as possible and have their needs met. We fight for them as much as possible if that is needed. We need to make sure the child is loved, cared for, nurtured and fight for all the little things these little guys need.”
CASA workers are meant to help reduce social workers’ case loads and they give advice to judges in court to determine whether or not the courts should conduct a case plan, adoption or have the children go back to their biological parents.
“Social workers have so many cases and they are so overworked, so we can invest a lot of time with the kids because we have just one case at a time,” Emery said. “Plus, social workers look at kids’ and parents’ well being. Our only responsibility is what we feel is the best interest in the kids and we can tell the judge that.”
The volunteers spend a lot of time with the children and seeing their living situations to give to the Judicial Court judges. The judges then take the volunteer assessments into consideration when discussing what to do with the child.
“It is hard working with the family because a lot of times, they aren’t bad people,” Emery said. “It’s usually addiction or the cycle of poverty that leads to neglect because they usually want the kids. We just want the kids to go back to a safer place.”
When this stay at home mom isn’t working with CASA or spending time with her three kids, her family can be found at their church or spending time outside. Emery and the other CASA volunteers work about 10 hours a week or more with their cases, and she said it’s the perfect outlet for her time and she hopes to continue this job for many years.
“(I do this because) I believe foster kids are some of the most overlooked, underserved members of society so it is important to shine a light on the problem of so many,” Emery said. “These kids are so worth it and sometimes their voices get lost with so many people in need, and we have to be that voice to help and speak on their behalf.”
“The hardest part is that if a child is in the foster care system, it is because something seriously wrong happened in the family,” she added. “It may be abuse, neglect, sexual assault, and knowing these stories and the brokenness and heartache — you can’t take away that but we can be the voice for their future.”
To apply to be a CASA volunteer, training begins in January. To apply visit casaofcc.org or email the CASA office at email@example.com. To get information on becoming a foster parent, visit childsjourneyhome.com or call 775-684-1967.