Turning a Child’s Heartache into Hope
After a decade conversing with powerful politicians as an Arizona state representative, Marion Pickens is finding that her most rewarding relationships are with friends generations younger.
Pickens, who was an educator in Tucson for 23 years before stepping into the legislature, now volunteers as a court-appointed special advocate (CASA), offering hope and friendship to children desperate for a stable family.
“This is something I jumped into when I got out of the legislature,” Pickens said. “It has really given me a chance to open my eyes to what is being done for children and what is being done for families.”
As a CASA volunteer, Pickens said her main role is to be “the voice of the child.” She researches all records related to a case and stays in contact with the families so she can recommend to the judge what would be the best outcome.
Sometimes, this can be as simple as spending time with the child and asking, “What do you want?” During the trial Pickens develops a bond with each child as she comes to under-stand their lives and looks for ways to turn heartache into love and support.
After three years, Pickens has seen both tragedy and joy. She has fought for a young girl battling her mother’s drug abuse and rejoiced when the girl was placed in a safe home. she has also fought for those who aren’t so lucky and continues to help them search for a secure environment.
Pickens said she is passionate about helping individuals, but also enjoyed working with groups of children in a classroom.
“There were always challenges, it was never easy,” Pickens said. “Every day there were problems to be solved, and I liked that.”
While working as an elementary school teacher, Pickens served as president of the Tucson Education Association and vice president of the Arizona Education Association.
As she began to consider retirement, friends and co-workers persuaded her to take her activism to a new level and run for the legislative. She was elected in 1990, but found it was tough going, fighting for her principles. “Sometimes it was discouraging,” Pickens said. “Sometimes we succeeded and could celebrate, but it was always challenging.”
Pickens received many awards recognizing her support for children and families, including the Arizona Friend of Families award in 2002. “I think [the community] found a legislator who was really interested in people and really appreciated any effort to ensure that peoples’ rights were being upheld,” Pickens said.
When she reached her term limit in 2002, Pickens returned home to the community in which she had once been fully immersed.
“Immediately when I came back, having been a teacher and a legislator, every one wants a piece of you,” she said. “I had to be very careful that I didn’t spread myself too thin.”
In addition to volunteering as a court advocate, Pickens became active in identifying and recruiting other women to elected office. She has been involved in the League of Women Voters, the American Association of University Women as well as the Arizona Women’s Political Caucus.
Although Pickens said her husband wishes she stayed home more, she has different plans for the future. “I just can’t believe that there would be anything else more important than getting out in the community,” she said. “I think I’m good for several more years.”
Court-appointed special advocate (CASA) volunteers speak for child victims of abuse and neglect.
Judges appoint volunteers to represent children who are the subject of an abuse or neglect proceeding. The volunteer gets to know the child, parents, foster parents and other import-ant parties, and then makes recommendations to the court as to the child’s best interests.
Being a CASA volunteer is a long-term commitment. Volunteers are assigned to a case for a full year and may be the only stable person in the child’s life.
To become a volunteer you have to undergo training to learn about foster care, abuse and neglect, your state's laws, HIV, education and poverty.