From Victim to Victorious:
Dashun often quotes the title of a book to describe his journey in life: Eternal Victim/Eternal Victor.
As a boy, Dashun and his three sisters suffered just about every form of abuse you can imagine—emotional and physical attacks by their mother, later sexual abuse by her and her boyfriend. When he was 13 years old, they were all removed from their home. After that, Dashun was bounced around, from a children’s emergency shelter to an aunt’s house, then back to the shelter. Without knowledge or the power to speak up, he felt like a victim.
A year and a half later, Dashun met his CASA volunteer, Robert. And everything changed.
Robert was instrumental in helping Dashun understand what was happening in court and teaching Dashun to stand up for himself and his needs. Robert made sure Dashun’s voice was heard. When he did not want to or could not speak, Robert spoke up for him.
Robert was there for Dashun—at every school event, ROTC ceremony, high school graduation. When Dashun took hold of his diploma, he heard Robert’s cheers above the rest.
About that same time, Dashun was placed into his final foster home, where he learned about service to others.
Dashun has dedicated his time to helping children whose life circumstances are similar to his—from gathering gifts for children of abused women to advocating for the rights of foster children on a state level.
Last summer, Dashun had the amazing experience of being an intern in Sen. Harry Reid’s office in Washington, DC. He learned that if you have a voice, there is someone who is willing to listen to it and to try to make change.
Dashun will graduate from college in 2014 with a major in psychology and a minor in political science. He hopes to return to Washington, DC, for another internship.
He states: “I’ve been given a powerful voice. I intend to use it as much as I can, for as long as I can.”
CASA volunteers like Robert – court-appointed special advocates – put their passion for the well-being of children into action. Assigned to watch over and advocate for abused and neglected children, CASA volunteers make sure kids don’t get lost in the overburdened legal and social service systems or languish in unsupportive foster homes. Volunteers stay with children until their court case is closed and the child is placed in a safe, permanent home. For many abused children, their CASA volunteer is the one constant adult presence in their lives. A CASA volunteer’s intense advocacy can break the cycle of abuse and neglect. When children grow up in homes where their only adult role models respond to them with violence and disregard for their needs, they repeat that cycle with their own children. When a CASA volunteer intercedes, it not only changes the course of one child’s life, it makes an impact for generations.
Each year, approximately 646,000 neglected and abused children find themselves—through no fault of their own–in the foster care system of the United States. They are often separated from their siblings and caught up in a confusing and complicated system of social workers, foster homes, courts, service agencies and state child welfare departments.
Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) for Children is a network of 933 community based programs that recruit, train and support citizen-volunteers to advocate for the best interest of the abused and neglected children in courtrooms and communities. In 2012, were more than 77,000 CASA and GAL volunteers helped 234,000 abused and neglected children find safe, permanent homes.
It is the only program of its kind with volunteers empowered directly by the courts to provide children with one-on-one advocacy. CASA advocate provide judges the critical information they need to assure each child’s rights and needs are being attended to while in foster care, and each volunteer stays with each case until the child is placed in a loving permanent home.
For many abused children, their CASA volunteer is the only constant adult presence in their lives.
A child with a CASA volunteer is more likely to be adopted or safely united with a family member than to linger in long-term foster care, is half as likely to re-enter the foster care system, and is more likely to do better in school.