the Dunlaps's Story
The following is excerpted from an article which originally appeared in the State Farm Red magazine, Volume 7, Second Quarter, 2010.
Pam Dunlap meets with a special elementary-school-age child every Wednesday after school. Sometimes they go to McDonald’s, or to a softball game. Occasionally they work on homework. But mostly they talk.
A passerby might assume this is Pam’s grandchild, but that’s not the case. In many ways, Pam serves as this child’s protector and problem solver. As a volunteer for CASA, Pam works as an advocate for children who have been removed from their homes by court order and placed under the care of the courts. CASA volunteers like Pam and her husband Roy are trained to become the voice of a child, acting on his or her behalf as an officer of the court.
“It’s important to become buddies to these kids and teach them things and provide whatever kind of support they need,” says Pam, a nine-year advocate. “I talk with parents, teachers, social workers, doctors, attorneys, dentists, other family members and their attorneys. Sometimes we have team decision-making meetings where we sit down with all involved and decide what to do.”
“If we see something is not going right, we try to set it straight,” she added. “I have a legal obligation to do the best job I can. The goal is to figure out what’s in the best interest of the child up to and including permanent placement – either reuniting them with parents or adoption.”
For Pam’s husband Roy, a seven-year advocate who has also volunteered as a Big Brother, CASA work is consuming but welcome. “A lot more is expected of you, and much more of your time,” he said. “I get a real good feeling about being a volunteer for CASA.”
Roy recalled one child, whose case had come to a happy conclusion, who asked to address the court. This child expressed to the entire courtroom a heartfelt gratitude for Roy’s kindness and help throughout what had certainly been a very painful and personal process. There were no dry eyes left in that courtroom.
For both Pam and Roy, the reward is to see everyone in a family grow from the experience – parents reunited with their children after learning how to be the best parent they can be.