This month we shine our spotlight on Advocate Robyn Stannard!
“She awoled for about five weeks. Normally when she does that, she will call me or text me. But she unfriended me [on social media], wouldn’t return my calls...I was feeling like, ‘I’m done.’ Finally she comes back and I go see her at her aunts. I tell her, ‘I was really concerned about you. Did something happen? Did I do something that made you want to pull away?’ [But it wasn’t about me.] She said, ‘I didn’t want to talk to anyone, and you fell in that world.’”
When Robyn first met Erica two years ago, she was 14 and living in a group home. She was shy at first, but was eager to receive a CASA. She could see that, for the other girls living in the group home, CASA outings were their ticket to freedom and fun for a few hours. Robyn was astute enough to recognize that Erica wasn’t particularly talkative or eager to open up, but if Robyn could get her involved in tasks she enjoyed, she opened up without realizing it. “She didn’t know she was sharing because she was doing something else.” When Robyn first met Erica with her Case Supervisor, she was able to find out that Erica liked reading and art. So their first official outing was to Barnes and Noble, and this quickly became a regular trip for them. They would choose an area of the store that Erica enjoyed browsing, and would eventually end up enjoying a treat in the coffee shop there. Robyn noticed she would get little opportunities here and there to ask Erica questions, to gauge how she was doing and how things were going in her placement, to assess Erica’s needs. These questions were sprinkled throughout a visit, and not asked all at once like an interview. Without Erica realizing it, Robyn was gathering information that enabled her to effectively advocate for Erica. Going to the movies is also a favorite outing for Erica. While seeing a movie together isn’t exactly the best opportunity for conversation, Robyn is intentional about using the time in the car with Erica. She hands her phone over to Erica so Erica can open up the Spotify playlists that they’ve been building for two years. At this point, like clockwork, Erica will start chatting about some random thing, and Robyn will be able to turn that into real conversation. But Robyn doesn’t have magic CASA powers, and sometimes when she picks up Erica, she gets an, “I don’t want to do anything.” Those are the times when Erica is having a tough day, and Robyn simply has to meet her where she’s at. That’s when she scraps her plans and suggests, “Ok let’s go have a Starbucks and sit in the car and listen to music.”
By far, the most challenging aspect of Erica’s case is all the placement changes. Erica goes through stable periods, and then something will set her off, and she’ll go awol for days or weeks. Perhaps other CASAs can relate to Robyn’s lament, that Erica’s reactions to her triggers seem far bigger than the trigger itself. Robyn theorizes that once Erica feels she has “messed up,” she gets discouraged and doesn’t try to correct it easily. Once she is awol for a day, she likely figures she may as well stay gone for a while because she is already in trouble. All of this placement instability has far-reaching effects in Erica’s life. Things will be going great at a new placement and a new school for a few months, then wham, something will set her off and she goes awol for two weeks. By the time she’s back, she’s lost her placement and has to start over in a new school. She’s lost whatever progress she made at the previous school and the relationships she had started developing there. Now she needs to get used to a new placement, with new people and new rules, get re-enrolled at a new school with another mark on her record, not to mention deal with the trauma of what she may have experienced while she was awol. While she doesn’t share details with Robyn, she does hint at it. This roller coaster, especially now that Robyn holds educational rights and is intimately involved with the whirlwind of school personnel coming in and out of Erica’s life, is the hardest thing that Robyn deals with. Erica recognizes the importance of education and how it can open up opportunities for her, but the day to day consistency is really challenging for her. Robyn sees growth in Erica’s self awareness; it’s just the daily execution that’s difficult. But she is encouraged to hear Erica refer to drama in the group home, and say, “I want to fight back and say things but I know that’s not going to help me, so I won’t.” She sees proof that Erica is maturing, and that their conversations are helping Erica make better choices about who she wants to be and how she wants to react to things in her life.
While guiding Erica in how to react to challenges is part of Robyn’s job as her CASA, she is also constantly checking her own reactions to challenges. After all, being a CASA is not easy. “There’s a time commitment in being a CASA, but it’s really an emotional investment. The first couple of months was really difficult for me. You want to fix it and make it better, and you have to learn how to manage that.” Robyn goes on to explain that when you are assigned your first case, you start getting exposed to your child and the issues you learned about in training, and you feel like, “I got this!” But as the relationship develops and your emotional investment increases, the role becomes more challenging because it’s your child, not a hypothetical scenario from training. As CASAs we sometimes want to throw money or more of our time at a problem, but our role limits us, and that can be hard to accept. When Robyn feels discouraged, or like she’s not making the impact she had hoped to, she reminds herself that her consistency and just showing up are what’s most important. And every once in a while, she gets a reminder from Erica. Someone at a meeting or a placement will say to Erica, “What about your CASA?” and Erica’s response will be, “Oh yeah, she’s not going anywhere!”
Robyn has become a constant in Erica’s life, and as such, Erica has developed some new CASA lingo. They have a standing joke they share. They might be listening to rap music in the car that Erica enjoys, and if the content becomes inappropriate, Robyn will jokingly say, “I don’t think that was CASA-approved!” And the song will quickly be changed. Erica has taken the joke and made it her own. When she’s talking to Robyn and lets some profanity slip out, she will say, “I’m sorry, that wasn’t CASA-approved.” Or she will start telling Robyn a story and stop herself, then slowly say, “Wait, this might not be CASA-approved…” Even though there is humor in it, the positive effects of Robyn as a mentor are visible. Erica is learning some healthy societal boundaries, and Robyn is teaching her how to be her best self.
Robyn’s Case Supervisor, Jeanette Arriaga, shares this about Robyn:
“I consider myself very lucky to be able to work with Robyn! Robyn has shown herself to be extremely committed and always makes sure to attend all meetings and stay informed of everything going on with her case, so she is able to advocate for Erica. Even after Erica goes awol for several weeks, Robyn stays committed and is there for her when she returns. After every difficult situation, she always makes sure to just show up to support Erica. Recently, Erica asked Robyn if she would hold her educational rights. That speaks volumes about Erica’s connection with Robyn and her trust that Robyn will be there for her consistently. Thank you, Robyn, for being such a pleasure to work with and for your commitment to Erica!”
*Name changed to protect confidentiality.