This month we shine our volunteer spotlight on Shae Hagen!
This month CASA shines their light on advocate, Shae Hagen. Given March is women’s history month, Shae shared with us which female figures have made a significant impact on her life. Shae’s grandmother was her biggest advocate as she had plenty of guidance, wisdom, and insight to share with Shae that Shae still values. Ruth Bader Ginsberg is her favorite historical female figure because she was a champion of gender equality- many of the rights women enjoy today (equality in education, financial, disabilities, and civil rights) are all thanks to her relentless work and sacrifice. Shae’s favorite female quote by Kavita Ramdas states, “"We need women who are so strong they can be gentle, so educated they can be humble, so fierce they can be compassionate, so passionate they can be rational, and so disciplined they can be free".
Shae works in the legal field and is also passionate about making a difference in the world. Shae is familiar with the CASA organization as she was a CASA in another state a couple years ago. When the pandemic hit, she moved to California and chose to look into volunteering again at CASA. She wants to continue to be a stable influence during a very turbulent time in a young person’s life. She was sworn in at CASA OC in 2020.
Shae understands how crucial it is for children in foster care to have a supportive adult and role model in their lives. Shae was matched with her current youth in November 2020. Shae became Brittney’s* CASA during the pandemic, so she had to learn how to navigate that on top of her new role as a CASA. She would check in with Brittney on a weekly basis and met in person outside in the backyard when possible. Shae made sure to remain child-focused, asking Brittney questions about herself and current events happening in her life.
Her CASA youth, Brittney, had never been matched with a CASA before so she did not know what to expect and it took some time for her to open up with Shae. Shae made an effort to ask Brittney about her passions and strengths in order to get to know who she is as a person. Shae discovered that Brittney has a green thumb for gardening and loves animals. They loved going to a cat café to spend time with rescue cats. Of more significance, Shae and Brittney were able to bond over gardening and did that activity often during their outings each month. Brittney even made the initiative to ask her foster parents to garden in their backyard. This encouraged her to remain positive about life and was proud of herself for taking that initiative.
Shae describes Brittney as resilient, intelligent, curious, and personable. She was put in a position where she had to grow up quickly, so she is very wise and mature beyond her age. Shae describes Brittney as an old soul in a young person’s body. Though she was shy at first, Shae has really seen her come out of her shell since she first met her. Brittney is very motivated and driven when she wants something. Brittney currently wants to get her driver’s license and is making an effort to make this happen.
Shae’s advocacy style is simple. She doesn’t pressure Brittney to give her answers; but rather, she is just a sounding board for her, not offering a response, just listening. She never tries to dig for information and instead will just let Brittney bring up topics she wants to discuss. You cannot force anyone to talk about something if they do not want to in the first place. Shae shared that it is also important to pay attention to the little details. For example, Shae noticed her CASA youth really enjoys using eye shadow, so she got her eyeshadow for Christmas. Her CASA youth was surprised she knew how much she liked eyeshadow and it showed her that Shae was paying attention to her. It is the little things that are usually the big things in a youth’s eyes and what matters most to them.
Shae’s greatest success so far as a CASA has been developing a trusting relationship with her CASA youth. Shae stated that when she first met Brittney it was hard for her to open up and Shae knew trust was crucial for the foundation of their relationship. Over time, after consistency and Shae’s child-focused approach, Brittney opened up more to her. Britney knows that Shae is a stable presence in her life and is able to voice her feelings and thoughts with her CASA when she needs to.
Shae’s greatest challenge so far as a CASA is dealing with the system itself. Shae states that there are so many people who come and go in foster youth’s lives that there is never any real consistency for these youth. It is a constant revolving door. Aside from navigating working within the system, there are also case challenges. Substance abuse and frequent AWOL behaviors have been challenging for Shae because she simply cannot control what Brittney does. It is also difficult for Shae to get any input from Brittney about school, so she relies on input from other members of team like the social worker in order to advocate for Brittney as much as possible. It is hard for these youth to trust that the system will help them succeed given so many people are only in their lives for such a short period of time. Shae is only one who has remained consistent in Brittney’s life.
Shae’s advice to other CASAs is that CASAs should objective when advocating and to be solely for the child. CASA are the eyes and ears for the child. Shae expressed that CASA should expect their relationships to take a lot of time and effort. CASAs should be patient with the process and their youth. Shae feels that everyone should consider becoming a CASA as it is such a unique volunteer opportunity that one can do in your local community. It takes a village to help these youth in foster care realize their potential for success.
*Name changed to protect confidentiality.
Shae's Case Supervisor, Scott Goldfarb, shares: “Shae Hagan was my first new advocate when I came aboard as a new CASA Supervisor a year ago. From the beginning, her case was a challenge. Shae has stuck with all the challenges presented by her case. Through multiple placements, in and out of the hospital, and multiple AWOLs, Shae has really stuck by her CASA youth. Today, Shae's youth has really blossomed, and I attribute a lot of that growth to the time, energy and love Shae has given her. Shae is a joy to work with and a real testament to the mission of CASA”.