On Tuesday morning, I had my first visit to court as a CASA  trainee, where a seasoned and experienced CASA who had handled about half a dozen cases on behalf of the court gave the last presentation, at least for now, for a case that has gone on for some time. For those of us who are new to the scene, the case was a helpful reminder of what the state considers to be minimal acceptable care, and also a reminder that it can be awfully inconvenient to have business at the courthouse when there are drills for massive earthquakes in the Cascadia area, which are taking place over the next couple of days as well as today, and which we found out about when we arrived at the Washington County Courthouse only to find ourselves outside of the building while a drill went on, which delayed all of the meetings by more than half an hour. There was nothing to do but wait, and so we did, although I half wish I had brought some reading material to better pass the time.
As it was, it was very worthwhile to chat with the CASA supervisor as well as the CASA herself both in the CASA office before the hearing, at the courthouse while we waited for the case to begin, and in the parking lot after we were done. The hearing itself went very straightforwardly. It was clear that the judge was a no nonsense lady, even for those of us who had never seen her work before. I was told after the hearing that this particular judge was the one who lectured all of the parents of children who had truancy problems, and I could see that as a very unpleasant experience. She looked through the paperwork given, spotted some holes in the report provided by the DHS case worker, and kept everyone on their toes. Among the most pointed things she said to the custodial parent in question was that if all a parent aspired to was to be a minimally competent parent, that it was a pretty crappy standard to aim at, and that one should aim far higher. It is my belief that most parents do aim far higher, but some parents as a result of their own struggles and difficulties do not hit as high a target as they aim at, and some fail to meet minimal acceptable standards as a result of their own addictions and compulsions.
Many of my classmates in the CASA training come from fairly privileged backgrounds. This is probably to be expected, but it can lead to some difficulties when it comes to being a fair advocate for children who come from far more modest backgrounds. It was striking over and over again to hear everyone say, whether proudly or grudgingly, that there were no active safety threats even where there were serious concerns. The standard for courts to get involved and stay involved is active safety threat, a standard that no child should have to face under any circumstances from their parents, but that is a pitifully low standard. We should be able to meet that standard without any effort whatsoever, as a result of having impulse control, some level of ability to communicate and cope with the reasonable demands and expectations of others (and even, sometimes, with the unreasonable ones), and some sort of emotional maturity. It is entirely inappropriate to wear like a badge of honor a finding that we are minimally competent, even if it is natural to mourn and feel deeply embarrassed if we cannot reach such a modest standard , even if the fault for that does not lie with ourselves alone, but with generations of abject failure that we may struggle mightily to change.
Sometimes, we need to be reminded that we are setting the bar a little bit too low for ourselves or others. At other times, we need to be reminded that what we consider to be easy may be very difficult for other people. Having a sense of complacency where we are at least moderately strong is unwise, as it prevents us from much greater success where we have obvious capabilities and competence, while a sense of despair at struggling to do what comes easily to others reminds us that we are not all cut from the same cloth and that we all face distinct challenges in our lives. How we respond to those challenges is a matter of some importance. At times we must focus on our weaknesses because they are so glaring that they do harm to us, because they fall below critical thresholds, even where we would prefer to focus on our strengths and do what comes naturally to us and what we do well. In order to manage this task successfully, it is important that we have sound knowledge and that we also surround ourselves with wise counsel, so that we are not caught off guards by whatever blind spots and areas of profound vulnerability that we possess, and that can easily trip us up if we are caught unawares.
 See, for example:
 See, for example: