May | June 2017

Stakeholder Corner: National Court Appointed Special Advocates’ Storytelling Movement

By Tara Perry

"When a child’s life hangs in the balance, we are there," excerpt from the National CASA Storyteller’s Handbook“When a child’s life hangs in the balance, we are there. We are the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) movement. We are trained volunteers who step up to assist judges and serve the nation’s most vulnerable children.”

These are the first few sentences of a new National CASA Storyteller’s Handbook, created by the National Court Appointed Special Advocate Association (National CASA) with support from OJJDP. This unique resource is empowering ambassadors of the CASA movement—volunteers, staff members, board members, judges, supporters, and others—to tell the story of 77,000 volunteers who are speaking up for the best interests of children who have been abused or neglected.

We are proud to have served more than 250,000 children last year alone. However, there are still hundreds of thousands more children who need a caring, consistent, and highly trained CASA or guardian ad litem (GAL) volunteer to help them navigate the most chaotic time in their lives. To ensure that every child who has experienced abuse or neglect has the opportunity to thrive in a safe and loving home, CASA programs need more volunteers.

We believe storytelling is the most powerful volunteer recruitment tool available to us. When a volunteer recruiter leads with statistics or jumps straight to our mission statement, potential volunteers may see the problem as too big, or may not see themselves playing a role. But sharing a personal story about the rewards of volunteering, or a true story about changing a child’s life for the better can be a game-changer.

National CASA worked nearly a year to collect themes and words from our programs to describe what our volunteers do every day and how they change lives. Through our discovery process, we identified the common denominators of nearly 1,000 unique programs that recruit, train, and support volunteer advocates in 49 states. From there, we created tools to deliver this high-impact message in communities across the country, including a message development card game called “Storyweaver” and the Storyteller’s Handbook.

When the handbook was introduced at the 2017 National CASA/GAL Annual Conference, one program director said, “Thank you for putting it into a format that’s real to all of us.” Another remarked on the power of its simplicity—a feat considering the handbook talks about complicated bureaucratic systems and manages to avoid the usual alphabet soup of acronyms.

We are pleased to report that these tools are already helping the men and women of the CASA/GAL network practice the art of storytelling—and recruiting more volunteers.

For the past 30 years, OJJDP has helped to not only expand National CASA’s volunteer corps, but also elevate it by ensuring that CASA volunteers are rigorously trained via a state-of-the-art training curriculum. Thanks to OJJDP funding, our programs adhere to the highest standards of excellence in service to America’s most vulnerable children.

With OJJDP’s continued support, we are adding new storytellers to the CASA movement who will keep making sure no child faces the foster care and court systems alone. Together, National CASA and OJJDP are a powerful voice for children.

Tara Perry is Chief Executive Officer of the National CASA Association. Points of view or opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.