Douglas County, Kansas

Team Spotlight: Q&A with Volunteer Supervisor Susan Allen

April 3, 2024

Volunteer supervisors play a critical role at CASA. These full- and part-time staff members train our volunteer advocates using the National CASA pre-service curriculum, and provide ongoing professional support as the volunteers manage their cases. Volunteer supervisors ensure the highest level of service is provided to each one of the appointed children in our community.

Susan Allen joined our team of skilled volunteer supervisors in 2012 after working in a variety of capacities in state government — including policy liaison for the Senate Minority Office and the Governor’s office and the Deputy Secretary of Appointments. “Not only is Susan an amazing advocate supervisor, her background and expertise has been a wonderful help to us as we track bills and legislation that directly impacts our work,” says Erick Vaughn, Executive Director. “I greatly appreciate Susan’s focus on protection and safety of the kids we serve, and her thoughtful approach to ensuring that professional guidelines are followed by our advocates.”

As she approaches her 12th anniversary at Douglas County CASA, we talked with Susan about how her background in state government and public policy has informed her work throughout the years. She also shares what qualities she thinks make a successful volunteer advocate, and what excites her about CASA’s future plans to broaden its impact through systems level advocacy.

How did you first get involved with CASA? What was your path to becoming a volunteer supervisor?

I first learned about CASA through a friend who was a volunteer. I was impressed by her commitment to the children involved in her case. I was also struck by the deep sense of fulfillment she derived from doing something that made a difference. Eventually, I went through training, became a volunteer, and was assigned my first case. I loved it!

How has your background in state government and public policy informed your work for CASA?

After serving as a volunteer on two CASA cases, I returned to school to pursue a master’s degree in Public Administration. I then held numerous positions in the Kansas state government, including one as a legislative liaison. There, I saw on a macro level that policies are created within the framework of politics and budgetary priorities with a focus on broad implications and goals. That was quite different from the grassroots level view I’d had as a CASA volunteer — where policies are experienced firsthand, and the consequences are immediate.

So, rather than my experience with the legislature informing my work as a CASA, the opposite happened. My work as a CASA volunteer informed my work with the legislature. It offered invaluable insight into the impact that policies have at the local level — especially when they fail to address the lack of resources required to meet the needs of the community.

What, in your view, makes someone a successful volunteer advocate?
I believe a successful volunteer is any person who is innately compassionate, willing to spend time getting to know their CASA child, and compelled to selflessly advocate for their CASA child’s needs.

How has being a volunteer supervisor been fulfilling? What has been your favorite part of the job?

I’ve had the privilege of working with a wonderful staff at CASA and have met so many amazingly kind and giving volunteers! And although there are many frustrations working within the complex child welfare system, I continue to find it extremely rewarding to know that we are helping children and their families in so many ways.

As one who has been involved with CASA more than 15 years — first as an advocate and then as a member of the staff — how have you witnessed the organization evolve and grow?

When I first became a CASA, there were two volunteer supervisors and an Executive Director. The small, shared office was on the top level of the courthouse on Massachusetts Street. Shortly before I joined the staff, CASA moved to an office on New Hampshire Street to accommodate more employees and space for volunteer training. In 2023, CASA purchased a building in North Lawrence with enough room for the agency to grow. Throughout the years, CASA has expanded its reach as an agency — the increase in space has allowed us to add more staff and to recruit more volunteers. Consequently, we have been able to serve increasingly more children with the goal of someday being able to serve every Douglas County child who is in the foster care system.

What excites you the most about CASA's future and the organization’s potential to advance child advocacy?

As CASA has increased in size, it is also expanding its scope into systems level advocacy. The legislative process encompasses broad policy goals entwined with political agendas. For child welfare policy-making to be effective, it must be complemented by well-informed, non-partisan boots-on-the-ground perspectives. As an agency at the grassroots level, Douglas County CASA offers invaluable insights into the practical realities and localized impacts of broad policies with the goal of achieving a child welfare system that is responsive to the needs of the local communities and their families and children in need of care. I’m very excited for the future!

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At any given time, there are 165 children from Douglas County in the child welfare system due to abuse and neglect. Help us help those children who are still waiting for a CASA volunteer.