By Jillian Stadig
Imagine being a young child, living in a dirty, dingy apartment with little to no furniture and even less parental supervision. Nichols student, Julia Hartley, discovered first-hand through a summer internship with CASA that this is the unfortunate way some children are forced to live. Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) is a nationwide program that trains and recruits volunteers to represent the interests of neglected children newborn to 18 years of age. The program is largely federally funded and has a network of 933 programs. Julia worked with the program in Providence, Rhode Island.
Originally, Julia had wanted to pursue an internship with the Department of Children, Youth, and Familes, however they do not offer an internship program. She learned about the CASA program opportunity through a family friend. Julia applied for the internship and was invited in for an interview. Julia utilized all of the skills and knowledge that the Professional Development Seminar Program taught her, which led to a successful interview and an internship offer. She went into the interview having done her research on the program, knowing that she shared many of the same values and goals that they have when it comes to helping children. Julia is a Criminal Justice Major, and when asked why she chose to do an internship in social work she responded, “I know I want to help children because they can’t really help themselves.” During her time with CASA, Julia learned just how much help some children need.
Julia worked closely with social workers and attorneys attending family court and drug court, meeting with judges and magistrates and making home visits to neglected children. “My experience was more show and tell than sitting behind a desk.” Julia also attended meetings at the Harmony Hill School, which provides treatment and education for children and teens in a safe and predictable environment. Julia remembers one particular rewarding experience of helping a teen at the Harmony Hill School. The student was a 17 year old transgender male, transitioning into a female. Both of his parents had committed suicide and he was approaching the age of 18 where he would no longer be eligible to be included in the program. Julia said, “We had to decide what the next step would be for him. He wouldn’t fit in with most foster family situations comfortably.” It was decided that he would be placed with a same sex couple looking to be foster parents. “It was so rewarding to know that we helped him find a place where he would be happy”, Julia added.
She also recalls the emotional experience of attending family court. The most memorable cases were those in which parents had their parental rights terminated. One such case involved a woman who had 13 children with nine different fathers. She did not have custody of any of her children at the time and was in jail for beating her husband. “She was telling the judge she cared about her children. How can you say that when you’ve lost custody of all 13 of them? Julia questioned. The woman ended up having her parental rights terminated for all of the children and was brought back to finish her jail sentence. Not exactly the happy ending the woman was hoping for, but the court does what’s in the best interests of the children.
Julia called her experience as a Court Appointed Special Advocate “eye opening.” She is undecided if she will pursue a job in social work after graduation, but she knows that she wants to do something that will help the children who need it the most. Julia learned just how difficult it is to go into the apartments and housing situations some children live in and how emotional and angering family court can be. What did she get out of this experience? “I had to be an adult. I had to get up early, be there on time, and do the jobs assigned to me every day. It’s different than getting up and going to class all week,” Julia responded. Like other students who have completed internships, Julia didn’t forget to mention the valuable networking opportunities she gained through the CASA program.