A CASA is a child’s voice in court. Most of the time this is in the form of a written court report submitted to the judge prior to a hearing. In some cases however, a CASA volunteer can be called to testify on a case. This can potentially be an intimidating and frightening experience for someone with no background in the court system, but it can also be necessary in order to ensure that the best of interest of the child is kept in the foreground of the case. CASA of NELA volunteer Teresa Sheppard was recently called to the stand and her testimony helped move the children in her case one step closer to a safe, permanent home.
Sheppard has been a CASA volunteer since September 2011 and has been working the same case since she was sworn in. The details of her case are an example of the all too common reality that many children in foster care are facing. Sheppard advocates for 9 year old twins, a boy and a girl, who have been in their second stint in foster care since July 2011. In their short lives, they have spent five years in foster care, been in seven different schools, five foster homes and have had three different case workers. As an advocate, Sheppard has been one of the most consistent adults in the children’s lives. After all the turmoil of the last few years, there was now a dim light at the end of the tunnel for these children. A hearing was scheduled to terminate their mother’s parental rights.
As the court date approached, Sheppard’s CASA supervisor Robyn McCarty told her that she might be called to testify. Sheppard says she wasn’t nervous however, adding “by the time you’ve written five court reports, you know the details.”
After a five hour wait in the courtroom, her case was finally called. Sheppard had been working with the children for longer than anyone else involved in the case, so her insight was viewed as valuable and she was called to the stand. She says that preparation was key to her testimony. “I felt like I was really prepared because a couple weeks prior to the court date, I met with my advocate supervisor and we reviewed all the documents and court reports from the case,” she said. Throughout the line of questioning, Teresa was able to provide solid truths about what would be best for the children in the case. The mother of the children had refused to work her case plan after the judge had given her ample time. The hearing ended with the mother’s parental rights being terminated. “The nerves came when it was over. I wasn’t scared when I was testifying because I knew my case,” Sheppard said.
The twins are now in a potential adoptive placement and Teresa will remain their CASA until the adoption is final. Sheppard’s work is a great example of the difference one person can make in helping children find safe, permanent homes. She sums it up by saying, “You just don’t realize how valuable a tool CASA is to the judge, the attorneys and the social workers. They have to use you, but if they do, you can be invaluable.”