Emily Hoak has been working with children and families throughout her career, including direct practice and program development. Her background also includes practicing clinical social work, which makes her a perfect member of the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) team as the Development Assistant and a CASA Supervisor for Porter County CASA.
“The kids we work with are probably going through one of the scariest times of their lives and they really need someone in their corner. That’s what spoke to me,” Hoak said.
As a CASA Supervisor, her duties depend as each day presents a different situation. She spends some of her time talking with volunteers about different cases, assisting them with court report writing, or offering them support in court. Hoak is also an active CASA for two children. The duties for being a CASA are to visit with the children, speak with their family case manager, report on updates from service providers and teachers, and talk with the parents or caregivers, all to better understand the child’s needs.
“When children enter in the child welfare system due to abuse or neglect, the children are appointed a CASA. We advocate the child's needs and best interests in court,” Hoak explained.
She explained that when parents require court intervention, they are appointed attorneys, but the children are not. That is where CASA comes in, making sure to evaluate the child’s experience and discovering ways to advocate what is best for them. This may include advocating for what the best placement for the child is, specifically honing in on permanency.
“We want a permanent safe home for these children, as quickly as possible,” Hoak said. “The reality is that most of the children that we serve are pretty young, and a year in their life is a huge portion of their childhood. We are trying to make sure that they have safety, stability, and care during that time and beyond.”
Being an active CASA includes forming relationships: going out and talking to the children on a monthly basis, as well as talking to people that are most important in their lives, such as parents, grandparents, or caregivers. Other duties include forming relationships with their teachers and any social service workers that are in their lives, such as therapists. This provides input to gain a better sense of what the child is experiencing to make the most appropriate recommendations in court.
“I think what is unique about CASA is we give these children a presence. This is a new experience for a lot of these kids as we try to really understand their life through their perspective,” Hoak said.
Hoak explained that the children appreciate that type of presence. CASA strives hard to get to know the children they serve deal and that’s what makes them unique, as their focus is truly on what is in the best interest for the children.
"These kids are hurting, but that hurt doesn't have to last forever,” Hoak said. “My hope is the CASA support has a lasting benefit to the children, which I think ultimately makes our community stronger as a whole.”
After a CASA case is dismissed, their duty in that child’s life has ended. Many of the children that CASA helps have never experienced a healthy goodbye before. CASA provides a healthy goodbye to every child they help to close that chapter of their life in a proactive way. CASA does not reach out to them once their time is finished, but if the child wants to reach out to them, they are free to do so.
Hoak is also in charge of the digital marketing sector for Porter County CASA and curates content and design work. She stresses the sole focus of digital marketing for CASA is to get the word out that the children and families they work with are a part of almost every community.
“There are children in your neighborhood who are dealing with something that is incredibly stressful, such as domestic violence, or a family member dealing with addiction, and, unfortunately, they may not be getting their needs met,” Hoak said.
Hoak said using the digital media marketing platform can put their mission on people’s radar.
“I want to make it known that this is something we all should care about as community members,” Hoak said.
CASA is always seeking volunteers and will be hosting a CASA Volunteer Informational Meeting on October 17 at 5:30pm at Family and Youth Services Bureau in Valparaiso. The meeting is designated for the public to learn about becoming a CASA volunteer, why they are needed, and what the requirements are. If you are unable to make the meeting, a volunteer coordinator or CASA staff member will happily share information via phone at 219-464-9585. For more information go to www.fysb.org/casa-program or visit www.facebook.com/portercountycasa/.