Retired educator leads local effort for kids in court system

Photo Credit: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Nancy Wakefield, a retired teacher and administrator, has been volunteering with Court Appointed Special Advocates for children (CASA) for seven years. It’s funny how one phone call can change the course of a life. Or several.

Thirteen years ago, Nancy Wakefield was a principal in the Neah-Kah-Nie School District on the Oregon Coast when she got a call from a Court Appointed Special Advocate for children, or CASA.

“I don’t know if I said this out loud, but I was like: ‘What? A who?’” Wakefield says.

Despite a long career working in schools as a teacher, special education instructor and administrator, this was Wakefield’s first encounter with a volunteer organization that spans 948 programs in 49 states.

CASA was formed in 1977 by King County (Wash.) Superior Court Judge David Soukup of Seattle, who recognized that children needed an adult in the courtroom who could speak to their best interests. Attorneys are required to represent the desires of their clients, which might not always be the same as their best interests.

The 125 volunteers of Child Advocates Inc. CASA of Clackamas County held a fundraiser Friday in West Linn.

Clackamas County Circuit Judge Susie Norby says during her short time since she started deciding juvenile dependency cases, “One of the first things I realized is that the CASA representative is usually the most useful person in the room.

“They’re the most fair and balanced perspective. They give me confidence that I’m making a decision that is right for the child,” Norby adds.

No-guilt program

Wakefield retired to West Linn in 2005, “and after I got tired of playing Free Cell …” she found her way to CASA of Clackamas County.

For the past seven years, says Executive Director Yuko Spofford, Wakefield has become an increasingly integral part of the local CASA.

“We want to clone her, is what we always say about Nancy. We wish we could have a hundred Nancies,” Spofford says. “We love her.”

In addition to the two children she advocates for, Wakefield can be found at the county courthouse in Oregon City just about every Thursday, watching for new cases and writing up a brief synopsis for a notebook in the CASA office.

Wakefield says the common thread in just about every case is a chicken-or-the-egg phenomenon. “An awful lot of adults in our society struggle with mental health issues and substance abuse issues,” she says.

Every volunteer picks cases from the synopsis that Wakefield writes; no one is assigned cases and most work just one at a time. “It’s a no-guilt volunteer program,” says Wakefield.

This helps prevent burn-out, she says. But it also offers the child — who may be in and out of homes, on and off different social workers’ caseloads or in and out of the juvenile courts system themselves — one of the most steady long-term relationships in their life.

Wakefield says that a child recently told her: “You know, you’re the only one who’s been with me the whole time.”

“Yep,” she answers. “I’ll be with you until you tell me to go away. That’s all I’m here for is to be about you.”

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