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Alice Barthel - Giving every troubled child a voice

Alice serves as a child’s primary advocate, in essence speaking for a child during child-welfare cases
April 29, 2020
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“Some of these situations are hard,” Alice explains. “We follow cases with substantiated abuse or neglect, and often, CASA volunteers are appointed to the most complex cases, because these children are in dire need.”

 

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Alice Barthel (far right) and other CASA members practice scenario-based case studies, which are part of the training these volunteers receive before working in the field. Photo courtesy of CASA First.

Alice Barthel of the Computational Physics and Methods (CCS-2) group sits patiently at a table while waiting for a child. The child is not related to her but is sadly one of the more than 2,000 children in New Mexico who are part of the foster-care system—these are likely abused or neglected children.

Alice is a CASA, a Court-Appointed Special Advocate, for the New Mexico First District Court. The acronym also happens to mean “home” in Spanish. Her role is relatively straightforward: she serves as a child’s primary advocate, in essence speaking for a child during child-welfare cases, many of which could drag through the courts for years.

“I started this type of child-advocate volunteer work while pursuing my PhD in Australia at the University of New South Wales,” Alice explains. “I found that serving as a child’s advocate made a big difference to the children I assisted. When I moved to Los Alamos to accept a postdoctoral position at the Laboratory in 2017, I immediately reached out to CASA First to continue this rewarding work.”

Formed in 1995, CASA First supports 60 volunteers who work for Santa Fe, Rio Arriba and Los Alamos counties. CASA First is an active member of the National CASA/GAL (Guardian ad Litem) Association and the New Mexico CASA Network. These special advocates help abused and neglected children reach safe and permanent homes.

“Change is difficult for everyone, but it is particularly difficult for a child. My greatest reward as a CASA volunteer is being the one consistent and steady adult in such a child’s life. It can be a scary period of time for neglected and abused children, and I am there to ensure that each child’s needs are met until each court case comes to a close and the child is in his or her safe and permanent home.”

Becoming a CASA


In early 2018, Alice enrolled in the first of several volunteer training sessions to become a member of CASA First. She graduated in March 2018 and has been a volunteer for the First District Court for the past two years.

“We are the eyes of the court and the voice of the child,” she says. “For many children in the foster-care system, it’s a difficult time of transition—it’s as if they are starting their lives all over again. I am that consistent adult in their lives, following them through the court system until they either return home or are transitioned to an adoptive home.”

Being a CASA volunteer consists of gathering the most up-to-date information about a child’s situation. It includes visiting a child once a month, as well as regular meetings with parents and foster parents, teachers and lawyers, social workers involved in a case, medical personnel and therapists, and court-appointed attorneys and judges. A CASA files reports to the case’s judge during review sessions to ensure that each child under the state’s care is safe and receives all the necessary services.
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In March 2018, Alice Barthel (first row, far right) and other new CASA volunteers waited in the Santa Fe District Court for their swearing-in ceremony. Photo courtesy of CASA First.

These reports contain a status of the child’s development and well-being, as well as recommendations for improvement and any concerns encountered during the review period. By providing this information, CASAs help make difficult decisions about what’s in a child’s best interest, be it to return home to his or her biological parents or transition into an adoptive home.

“We receive 30 hours of training, both online and in-person sessions,” says Alice. “We hear about the latest legislation taking place in New Mexico and practice case studies that teach us what exactly goes into writing review-period reports. Once we are working in the field, we have supervisors who guide us through such cases and are always there to answer questions and provide support, particularly when it comes to what to expect when going to court.”

Getting to know a child

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Alice Barthel (right) and her mom paint mugs for a CASA First fundraising event. Photo courtesy of CASA First.

One of the more challenging parts of being a CASA volunteer is dealing with some difficult cases. “Some of these situations are hard,” Alice explains. “We follow cases with substantiated abuse or neglect, and often, CASA volunteers are appointed to the most complex cases, because these children are in dire need.”

Getting to know and gain a child’s trust can be challenging, and Alice says that each CASA volunteer has a different approach, one dependent on the child’s age.

“Regardless of age, being consistent is a big deal,” Alice says. “These children often have parents who struggle in being consistent, usually because they have a lot of stressors in their lives. Being consistently there for such children, even when they don’t want to see you, pays off in the long run because they feel free to express themselves around you, sharing the good and the bad.”

Alice notes that there are different ways to support CASA First, in addition to becoming a CASA volunteer. “Spread the word about CASA First,” she says. “You could do this by becoming a support volunteer, a CASA Angel, if volunteering as a CASA is not possible. You can also donate through the Laboratory’s Employee Giving resource or other resource channels, and of course work to raise awareness about the needs of children in your local community.”

 


 

Alice Barthel works on ocean modeling for the Computational Physics and Methods (CCS-2) group.

 


Resources

CASA First

National CASA Association/Guardians ad Litem



Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the Employee Spotlight articles are solely those of the featured employees and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Los Alamos National Laboratory.