Child advocate Doug Simmang came to Dallas CASA because he wanted to make an impact and knew he needed something challenging to keep him engaged. After being sworn in by the court this spring, Doug jumped in with both feet on his first case, a baby with medical needs. He’s found himself serving as the go-to source for information for Child Protective Services, family, attorneys and medical professionals.
Do you have one moment that showed you the true value of a CASA volunteer?
For me, it’s been the medical advocacy I’ve been able to do with the 11-month-old girl I was assigned to that’s shown me the importance of this role. The child sustained serious head trauma, and because there’s just so many players involved in the child welfare system things can get missed. There’s important information that needs timely dissemination between the doctors, the foster parents/agency, the child’s attorney and Child Protective Services, and I have found myself serving as sort of a “coordinator” between everyone. I’ve been going to doctor’s appointments and listening to the doctor and taking notes and then disseminating that information to everyone. The feedback I’ve gotten is that’s been very valuable to all parties. I didn’t really get a feel for the role of child advocate until I started doing some coordination.
What about this case is special to you?
My interest is with the baby. I’m trying to get everyone to see the long term potential this child has. Everybody’s got a dog in the fight, but I’m the only objective, nonpaid person solely focused on the best interests of the child. CPS caseworkers, attorneys, etc. are doing their best, but they can have hundreds of children they are serving.
What have you learned about medical advocacy?
One thing I’ve learned is not to be shy about diving into paperwork and forms, especially medical records. You can be proactive. You can talk to the doctors. The family isn’t accustomed to dealing with medical professionals and they can be hesitant. I know exactly how to get what I need when I need it. When we needed copies of the baby’s MRI, I stopped by the doctor’s office and picked them up and shared those.
I’ve also learned that what’s most important in medical advocacy is not what I say, but what the doctors say. Anything I pass on or consider recommending has to be supported by the medical professionals. The medical professionals’ opinions are what really matters, and my main role is to gather the information and share it.
What do you tell friends who say being a CASA is too hard or demanding?
CASA has such a tremendous support system in place, especially through the volunteer supervisors. They are always there with answers. The 30 hours of training can only cover so much, and my supervisor has been an incredible resource for me.
What has this first case been like?
I was so nervous in the beginning. I knew I could handle it, but I didn’t want to do anything dumb or embarrass CASA. But just a few short weeks in, and I feel like I’ve learned so much from where I started initially. Just doing the work has made me feel confident and capable.
What brought you to CASA initially?
I’d been looking for the right volunteer work for a while. There were things that were easy to do, but I didn’t feel like they made much of an impact. I wanted to make an impact. I knew if it was interesting I would stay with it long term. CASA just hit all my needs, and the interaction with the children and the legal and medical systems to make a big difference for the child seemed really interesting.