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Male volunteers are a special asset for Montgomery County organization

October 5, 2018

Mike Driscoll works in car sales, but he also spends time going to court, filling out paperwork and visiting children living in foster homes.

He’s a Court Appointed Special Advocate, or CASA, volunteer in Montgomery County. He’s working on his first case after having completed training in August.

The organization’s mission is to provide an adult advocate for every child in the county who has been placed in foster care because their home is no longer safe, often due to issues such as abuse, abandonment or substance use.

The advocate is appointed by a judge to represent the child’s best interests during their parent’s court proceedings and is tasked with reporting on all sides of the child’s situation.

Last year, more than 250 advocates served nearly 700 children in Montgomery County. Driscoll, though, is in the minority as a male advocate.

While the children who need advocates are equally divided in terms of gender, the advocates don’t consist of the same breakdown.

Shellie Tyrrell, CASA’s recruiting manager, said that about 80 percent of volunteers are female, while only about 20 percent are male.

CASA’s Executive Director, Ann McAlplin, said that while the female volunteers are extremely valuable and successful, the male volunteers bring something different to the table—especially when it comes to relating to young men. In this situation, the children are likely to have a less-than-present father.

“For older boys, a lot of them have never met, much less have had a relationship with a good man. They’ve not had a role model. We think it’s important for them to know what a good man looks like,” McAlpin said. “A male can do that in a way that a female can’t.”

Driscoll said he is able to step in to that situation and talk with authority to the boys or young men, often getting a positive response.

“There are things that we can talk about as men that they’re not going to be comfortable talking to women about,” Driscoll said.

Yet, he advised that relating to the boys in the system isn’t rocket science.

“It’s about breaking down barriers. This is basic, human nature stuff. If you take a deep breath and roll your sleeves up, it’ll come to you,” he added.

Another male volunteer, Ron Finch, said that he signed up as soon as he retired about a year and a half ago, and he hasn’t looked back.

“It reminds me of mowing tall grass. When you start to do it, it looks bad…But (when you finish) you can tell that you’ve really done something,” Finch said.

He’s noticed that of the cases he’s had so far, he tends to have a strong influence on teenage boys.

In one instance, when he went to pick up one of his assigned boys’ report cards at the end of the school year, he saw that the boy had failed seventh grade.

He explained to the administrators that the boy was very smart, but was at a disadvantage because he been taught by so many different teachers as a result of moving foster homes several times.

The administrators decided to promote the boy to the eighth grade. When Finch went to tell the boy, he said he’ll never forget the smile that spread wide across his face.

“For that, I’ll do this work for the rest of my life,” Finch said.

McAlpin said that for the teenagers in the system, it takes an advocate who can be compassionate and loving, but also stubborn and dogged.

“When you’re talking about teenagers, it’s not just love. That takes persistence,” McAplin said.

In order to serve successfully, Tyrrell also said advocates are expected to spend about 10 hours per month through the duration of their child’s case, which is usually about a year.

Advocates send emails and make phone calls, prepare court reports and perhaps most importantly, visit the child once a month in their foster home. There are case supervisors on staff to help advocates along during the process.

CASA has also recently revised their training program to be more flexible so that volunteers can take some of their 30 hours of training online. This makes it easier for those who work to become advocates.

jane.stueckemann@chron.com

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