Outside, Looking In

Last February, I went out to visit my preschool age CASA children. They had each painstakingly cut a Valentine from pink construction paper and signed their name in large block letters. One, in the shape of a deeply curved heart with abrupt edges, like wings of a moth that had been snipped off mid-flight. The second was a rectangle folded in half, adorned with sparkly stickers reading “Sweetheart”. No one has given me their heart in a long time, nor has anyone shown such interest in my arrival.

I saw you in the window, the smaller child says, curving her palms like a pair of parens and holding one on each side of her face, mimicking the way she peered through the one-way mirror into the observation room when I was at Children’s Services a few weeks ago to observe a visit with her parents. “It’s my CASA!” she said to her birth parent. I had hoped to observe unnoticed, knowing that however unobtrusive a CASA tries to be, his or her presence affects the parent-child interaction.

The image of her little hands cupped around her face made me think of a teenager in another family who told me that visiting her parents in an observation room was like being a monkey in the zoo. Everyone stares at you. Such insight reminds me that even when we are mindful and considerate–even when children hand us their hearts–CASAs are in the business of asking children to trust us despite being strangers, despite being on the outside looking in.

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