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Archive for Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Retired teacher still making difference as child advocate

May 31, 2011

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Katie Becker, a retired Hillcrest Elementary teacher, continues to work for children as a court-appointed special advocate working with abused and neglected children.

Katie Becker, a retired Hillcrest Elementary teacher, continues to work for children as a court-appointed special advocate working with abused and neglected children.

When Katie Becker retired from teaching at Hillcrest School in 2005, she wasn’t ready to retire from working with children. So she began one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of her life.

She became a Court Appointed Special Advocate, working with abused and neglected children in care of the juvenile court.

“It was a way for me to still have a connection with kids and make a difference in a child’s life on a different level than you do when you are a classroom teacher,” said Becker, who was recently honored as the United Way Roger Hill Volunteer Center’s 2010 Wallace Galluzzi Outstanding Volunteer of the Year for her work with Douglas County CASA.

Becker’s first case involved a 2-year-old taken from her mother.

“Here is this parent of my CASA child who was never nurtured properly herself, who grew up in a dysfunctional home. So how do you teach her how to create the proper environment for her own daughter?” Becker said.

But Becker did. During the two years she was on the case, she loved her CASA child like a grandmother and helped the child’s mother on her challenging journey to becoming a better parent. Becker connected with extended family and foster parents, conferred with social workers and lawyers, and wrote reports and recommendations for the judge. The case ended with the child being returned to her mother.

Since becoming an advocate, Becker has volunteered more than 100 hours a year, working on five different cases and helping children from toddlers to teens navigate a difficult time. The relationships she’s formed with the children have been meaningful, and some have even extended after the children were placed in a permanent home.

“With any volunteer work, you almost gain more than you give,” Becker shares. “It’s a huge feel good, just the feeling you have inside.”

The feeling is mutual, if you ask the families who find themselves under Becker’s care, says Carolyn Johnson, volunteer supervisor for Douglas County CASA.

“When I’m standing in the hallway at the courthouse waiting for a hearing, and one of Katie’s kids is hugging her and telling her their latest news, it’s easy to see how much they appreciate her involvement in their lives,” Johnson said. “Everything Katie touches, she just makes magical. She is a wonderful lady.”

Currently, 52 advocates are assigned to 72 children in Douglas County. The agency adds up to 20 advocates a year, but still there are children on the waiting list to receive an advocate, Johnson said. For information, visit dccasa.org.

Micki Chestnut is associate director of the United Way Roger Hill Volunteer Center.

Comments

Maxandwillie 3 years, 7 months ago

Katie and Charlie Becker are salt of the earth! Good people do great things! Thanks Katie for continuing to make a difference in Lawrence.

Alceste 3 years, 7 months ago

●Throughout the country, local CASA chapters continue to state or imply that they are “a child’s voice” in court. They are not. A CASA advocates for whatever the CASA thinks is best for the child. So if the child desperately wants to go home, but the CASA thinks that’s a bad idea, the CASA pushes as hard as she can against what the child wants; the child effectively is silenced. (While it is much less likely to happen, if a child wants to stay in foster care and the CASA wants the child to return home, again, the child is silenced – and that is equally wrong.)

Children do need a voice in court – a real one. From the age a child is old enough to express a rational preference she or he should get a lawyer to fight for that preference. That doesn’t mean children always should get what they want. But the best way to find out what truly is best for a child is if everyone has an articulate advocate making his or her case. Deciding what is best is what we pay judges for. It’s time we stopped ceding that role to amateurs.

CASA is one of the larger fronts as it is a GIANT aspect of the problem with respect to the distorted "Court" system, families, children, removals, foster care, etc. CASA ain't no panacea and has been allowed to grow and mutate to the point of obscenity. LOTS of Jim Jones like Kool-Aid being drunk around these here parts. Read the truth about CASA and what a joke of an operation it is here: http://nccpr.info/the-case-against-casa/ (if you dare, download AND READ the complete report here: http://www.nccpr.org/reports/casa.pdf , bearing in mind this report is one that was ordained by CASA itself and then BURIED because CASA didn't like what was found.... )

Here are some basic "bullet points" to wet your whistle: an evaluation commissioned by the National CASA Association itself. As Youth Today noted, the report “delivers some surprisingly damning numbers.”

●The study found that CASA’s only real accomplishments were to prolong the time children languished in foster care and reduce the chance that the child will be placed with relatives.

●The study found no evidence that having a CASA on the case does anything to improve child safety – so all that extra foster care is for nothing. (The study specifically controlled for CASA’s all purpose excuse for this – the claim that CASAs handle the most difficult cases.)

●The study also found that when a CASA is assigned to a child who is Black, the CASA spends, on average, significantly less time on the case. (The study also found that CASAs don’t spend as much time on cases in general as the organization’s p.r. might lead one to believe. CASA volunteers reported spending an average of only 4.3 hours per month on cases involving white children, and only 2.67 hours per month on cases involving Black children). (Continued below):

Alceste 3 years, 7 months ago

Continued:

Rather than respond to the findings of its own study by cleaning up its act, CASA tried first to spin the results and then to bury them. Youth Today concluded that CASA’s spin “can border on duplicity.”

In short, CASA is one more thumb tilting the scales of justice against families.

Alceste 3 years, 7 months ago

CASA is a horrible operation for children and their families! Social workers NEVER make "best decisions" on behalf of children.....they, at the VERY best make "least worst" decisions. The failure to factor in the harm done to the child by removing the child in the first place is unconscionable irrespective of what's going on in the family home. YES....SOMETIMES children need to be removed, even if it is into a failed system.....the system of foster care. It is PARTICULARLY bad in KANSAS. The Federal Government even claims so.....

http://www.nccprblog.org/search/label/CASA

"The more rigorous evaluation … not only challenged the effectiveness of the court volunteers' services, but suggested that they spend little time on cases, particularly those of black children, and are associated with more removals from the home and fewer efforts to reunite children with parents or relatives."

None of this should come as a surprise – the problems are built into the CASA model. Who has time to spend even 4.3 hours a month on a case? Certainly not a poor person holding down two jobs. So it's no wonder CASA programs sometimes are pet projects of the local Junior League and the demographics of CASAs tend to be different from the demographics of the families they judge.

Indeed, in a cover story about the report (available on their website by subscription) Youth Today found that CASA's approach to spinning the study "can border on duplicity"

And now, it seems, that approach includes making sure as few people as possible actually see the report. It's always been hard to find on CASA's website. There used to be two such sites, and the study was buried deep in the one geared to CASAs themselves, not the general public. But when I checked again earlier this month, I found that the two websites had been merged – and the study seems to have disappeared. As far as I can tell, only a brief, self-serving summary remains. (If anyone can find the full report on the site, please let me know and I'll be glad to post the link.)

Alceste 3 years, 7 months ago

....and here is your educational link for Youth Today: http://www.youthtoday.org

There is more than one way to skin a cat and most certainly CASA has had it's chance at said cat. The cat has been eviscerated by CASA.

Do you dare to read? http://www.youthtoday.org/view_blog.cfm?blog_id=489

CASA needs to change the way it does business or quit. PERIOD.

sustainabilitysister 3 years, 7 months ago

Great article about Mrs. Becker. Katie you're truly a gem!!!

Alceste 3 years, 7 months ago

Mrs. Becker is being USED as a propaganda piece for the Court. I'm sure she is well intentioned. The Court system? That's another story. Read the truth; it's in all the links I have supplied and I have a ton more.

The story is NOT about Mrs. Becker....it's about the FRAUD being perpetrated on children by CASA. DISGUSTING.

ivalueamerica 3 years, 7 months ago

the tone of everything you have stated is emotional, meaning you have been burned and you want to hurt someone. It makes your message lost. I am not saying anything for or against CASA, only telling you that your delivery makes you not credible.

Alceste 3 years, 7 months ago

Typical Lawrence, Kansas: form and presentation is preferred over facts and data. Do not mistake my earnestness for emotion. Such a mistake is your error and your error alone.

If you don't think CASA is perpetrating a fraud against children and families, you don't know what's what or you've chosen to stick your head in the sand. shrug

ivalueamerica 3 years, 6 months ago

i have checked your facts and they are far from conclusive. Just like you dismiss me, you dismiss any facts that do not support your viewpoint.

That means you fail to make a legitimate case.

Present one and I will listen to you. In fact, I stated flat out that I have no comments pro or against CASA, but because I disagreed with your presentation, you dishonestly suggested that I support CASA, again showing your utter failure to be respectable and honest.

Scott Morgan 3 years, 7 months ago

Alceste, As you know I am for doing something, anything different than the horrid system we have now. Tip o hat.

Deb Engstrom 3 years, 7 months ago

I now have guardianship of 2 beautiful girls that came to me through the court system. It was a long and winding road and the one bright spot in the journey was our CASA. There was no doubt about what was best for the girls -- of course they said they wanted to go home because they were too young to evaluate the entire situation objectively--but she communicated with the agencies, the bio parents, the girls, and me to help maintain civility among all parties. In spite of others' jaded opinions, I think CASA is great. Congratulations, Katie!!!

rwexler648 3 years, 7 months ago

Contrary to the header, I am not anonymous, my full name and title are below:

Many comments on this thread use excerpts from documents my organization has posted about CASA, so I won’t repeat these points here, except to note two things:

--None of this is meant to reflect on individual volunteers. They almost always mean well, and often they themselves are not aware of the research findings.

--Those findings come from a study commissioned by National CASA itself. It speaks volumes that they won’t post the study on their website, so we’ve had to post it on ours. There’s a link to the full study in our publication about CASA on our website here: http://bit.ly/gfJdtV

This is the single most popular page on our website, reflecting the enormous frustration with CASA, and the fact that news media, with the exception of the authoritative trade journal Youth Today, have declined to take an objective look at the program.

And finally, some of the most appalling behavior ever seen by any CASA chapter comes from Kansas, though not Douglas County. We discuss it on our Child Welfare Blog here: http://bit.ly/mDRFTh The fact that National CASA took no action against this chapter, and no other Kansas chapter that I know of condemned this behavior or demanded resignations from the chapter in question also speaks volumes.

Richard Wexler Executive Director National Coalition for Child Protection Reform www.nccpr.org

Alceste 3 years, 7 months ago

It does appear the the LJWorld and our local CASA want this story to go away. We can't have that. It's for the children, don't you know? I shall copy and paste what Mr. Wexler is referring to which took place right here in Kansas in October/November 2008 in Arkansas City, Kansas:

The story is about the CASA chapter in Arkansas City, Kansas, about an hour from Wichita. Every year, their big annual fundraiser is the Men in Tights drag queen contest. No problem there. This year, the winner was the mayor of Arkansas City, Mel Kuhn. He won both the talent competition and the overall Miss CASA title. Still no problem, it's not as if they played favorites and gave him the prize just because he's the mayor.

The problem is the costume that won Mayor Kuhn the coveted Miss CASA title: He dressed up as a woman he named "Smellishis Pn." The "surname" is, in the words of the Arkansas City Traveler "graphic slang for a female private part." So is the name the mayor chose for his back up dancers. They were called the "Red Hot Pnt**gs." Oh, and one more thing: The mayor did his act made up in blackface.

The mayor initially defended his performance. "All this PC is b-------," the mayor/Miss CASA said. "We go around walking on eggshells all the time, we don't get anything done." But after a meeting with officials of the Wichita Branch of the NAACP, the Mayor/Miss CASA changed his mind and offered what sounds like a sincere apology.

From CASA, however, there has been only one of those non-apology apologies, with the executive director of the Arkansas City CASA program, who earlier gave the mayor's performance rave reviews, later telling The Wichita Eagle that "We're sorry that anyone was offended at this show."

But the Mayor/Miss CASA says the local CASA chapter knew exactly what he planned to do beforehand. According to the Traveler:

He said he ran everything he planned by CASA officials, and that the audience found it all hilarious. "I didn't spring anything on anybody, he said.

After the performance, the local CASA executive director, Linda Groth, did say she was "mortified" by the name the Mayor chose – after a reporter told her what "poon" meant. But other than that, she thought the performance was just fine. She told a local website, The News Cow, (because Arkansas City is in Cowley County, that's why):

"The part of his act I felt was excellent was the dancing. It was good dancing. The back-up singers were gorgeous and could probably back up any professional. It was a pretty professional little act. The audience loved it. The judges must have liked it. We may change some things. We may not. We certainly don't want to offend anybody."

It's unfortunate that anyone is upset. Kuhn wanted to put on a good show and worked hard, according to Groth. Other people saw the program but no one commented on his character's name. (Continued):

Alceste 3 years, 7 months ago

As for the blackface, Groth told the Traveler she didn't think the mayor was trying to portray a different race: "It wasn't black black," she said. "It was all really just tan." (Readers can judge for themselves by having a look at the photos here and here. )

Groth went on to give the Mayor/Miss CASA another rave review, praising all the time Kuhn took to prepare and noting that "the judges and the audience in general seemed very impressed."

Most of the criticism has been directed at the mayor. But that misses the point. The real issue is this: How much harm is being done to impoverished children, especially minority children, by placing their fate in the hands of people who can watch a man dress up in blackface under the name of Smellishis Poon – and see no problem with any of it? What kind of child welfare system lets such astonishingly insensitive white people sit in judgment of overwhelmingly poor disproportionately black families? And where was the National CASA Association while all this is going on? I am aware of no condemnation of the Arkansas City chapter by the national group; certainly there is nothing on National CASA's website about it. Perhaps they don't know about it, though it happened a month ago.

It's all right here: http://www.nccprblog.org/2008/11/casa-chapter-shows-its-true-colors.html

Gosh, the local Lawrence CASA wasn't the least bit concerned about this manner of behavior? Incredible. It's for the children. Uh huh....and Sam Brownback is going to create jobs in Kansas for Kansans.

ivalueamerica 3 years, 6 months ago

I know quite a few stories about people who present a lot of anger and hold on to it and say horrible things during custody battles, then spend the rest of their lives blaming the judges or the lawyers or the other parent and fail to see their own failures.

Alceste 3 years, 6 months ago

Is that all you know? Stories? Pitiful.

Let me clarify something for you, just because I'm such a swell person: I'm a child advocate. I have not had any "custody battles" of any manner.

I have experienced hand wringing do gooders who believe that being poor is a crime. I have experienced "professionals" who can't run their own lives, but can run the lives of the people who come into contact with the child welfare non-system. I have experienced wanton medicrity by well the well intentioned who don't trouble themselves to find out what really is behind those drapery.....as in the "Wizard of Oz". I have seen many a child languish in foster-care drift because the system doesn't work; hasn't worked; and most certainly shall not work because of the inability of the entrenched to hold onto sacred cows like CASA and other bankrupt concepts.

Did you trouble yourself, "ivalueamerica", to read the reports which CASA has chosen to bury and ignore? You might actually learn something if you'd jump off the train of complacency, grab the bull by horns, and find out what's what when it comes to how foster care doesn't work and WHY it doesn't work. It's called vested interest. shrug

ivalueamerica 3 years, 6 months ago

your story is only half the story, therefore, a lie.

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