This month we shine our spotlight on Advocate Katie Burnett!
Twelve years ago, Katie sat at a courthouse waiting to be called for jury duty and felt bored. She then picked up and read a pamphlet about CASA and felt that the program was made for her! Little did she know that in that moment of boredom, she was about to start a journey that is now in its 12th year and counting. Her longevity in serving as long as she has at CASA shows Katie’s approach to her cases and her service in general: she is committed and steady. Katie’s desire is to be there for kiddos who really need someone in their corner.
Katie’s first three CASA youths were teen girls whose personalities and circumstances were very different from one another. Katie remained committed to them through good times and challenging times. Those challenging times are inevitable given the trauma and loss of youth in foster care. After those first three CASA matches which involved delinquency issues, family dynamics, and nonminor dependent issues, Katie was open to take the case of a little five year old girl with big dreams to someday be adopted. Katie was matched with Joelle* in the spring of 2018. Joelle’s challenges have a different form than previous cases. Joelle is an open book, loves everybody, and longs to belong to a family. Katie has provided a steady presence in her life. Joelle knows that Katie is coming back, no matter where Joelle is placed. After two failed adoptions, Joelle is dealing with the aftermath of great loss and abandonment, but she can count on Katie showing up for her. Katie recalls that on their very first solo visit Joelle ran away from Katie while they were at the park. That incident did not deter Katie from her commitment to keep showing up while finding ways to keep Joelle safe during outings. Katie is able to remain flexible to meet the needs of the children she serves.
Behind the scenes, Katie has continued to show up for Joelle by collaborating with social services to build a strong team around this little girl. Further, when there was no other individual in her life to take educational rights, Katie stepped up to fill in the need to ensure Joelle is receiving appropriate educational supports. Even through the pandemic, Katie is proud to say that the team was able to get Joelle’s IEP educational goals reviewed and completed.
The biggest challenge for Katie in her CASA role is to understand the things she cannot control such as when the child is not receiving the proper care or when someone has hurt the child. But Katie remembers that she just needs to keep showing up, even the child appears to reject her attempts. Katie recalls an example of this when one of her CASA youths called her at 9 p.m. the night before her high school graduation to ask her to attend. Katie knew the date and had kept that date open on her calendar just waiting for her youth to initiate the invitation. That was a big success, just being available for the child! Katie also commented that it’s important to be kind to yourself, especially during dry periods of communication. She does her best not to take it personally or to be too hard on herself.
Katie loves spending time with her CASA youth – “That’s the fun part,” she said. Those moments when you are just having fun with the kids are the moments when you get to see the best part of them. Katie recalls that her first CASA youth appeared tough as court reports described her, but it was neat to see the youth’s best when Katie took her to an art museum. This was a first for this youth. This was an amazing experience for the youth and for Katie to watch her youth enjoy her first art museum experience. Another example was taking her youth to a Thanksgiving dinner for the first time. Katie loves experiencing with them “firsts” and listening to them describe the world around them, like the rain on the leaves. Going camping would not be something a city girl like Katie would do, but she signed up for a camping trip with one of her teen CASA girls because she knew it was important for her.
Although writing court reports is not the most fun part of being a CASA, Katie does a great job with this. Her court reports are informative and well documented with pictures to show the judge a side of the child that only a CASA is able to show. Her least favorite part of cases is the times when there have to be team meetings to discuss concerns. These are not pleasant experiences, but the CASA is there to be the voice of the child to ensure the child’s perspective is highlighted.
As a teacher, Katie shared that CASA has helped her have a broader view of her students, especially those who appear too hard or difficult. Being a CASA has opened up the way she looks at the kids in her classroom. Katie would like to tell other CASAs to just stick with it, keep showing up, be yourself, and listen to the child. Katie is a very independent CASA, but she has learned to rely on her case supervisor for emotional support, especially with Joelle’s case. Katie said that she really needed her and her case supervisor was there for her.
Katie began her CASA journey with the mindset to serve 2 years and now here she is 12 years later. Katie said that the idea of helping somebody kept her coming back because it would be wrong not to do it. She says that if it is within her power to help others, she feels compelled to do it. Lastly, Katie said that the kids just need their advocates and being a CASA is just part of her life and her routine.
*Name changed to protect confidentiality.
Katie’s supervisor, Maureen Madison, shares this about her: Katie has been a faithful advocate and mentor for her young youth for over two and a half years. During that time, Katie's youth has seen many changes in her placement, schools, social workers, and therapists and Katie has been the only stable team member. She is always child-focused and truly seeks out the best for her youth in every situation. At a recent meeting, her youth referred to her as "my Katie". Katie is a consistent, wise, responsible, and fun CASA for her youth. We are so thankful to have her on the CASA OC team!