Alan Singerman has served as a Custody Advocate volunteer with the Council since 2008. He was on the faculty at Davidson College (French) until his retirement in 2007. We asked him to share a few thoughts about his experiences as an advocate and why he volunteers.
How did you learn about Council for Children’s Rights?
Through a Charlotte Observer article in 2006 or 2007 discussing the role of and need for custody advocates at the CFCR.
What made you decide to volunteer with us?
I’ve been concerned about vulnerable populations as long as I can remember but never had time to do anything to help when I was teaching full time. When I retired I went through training and joined both a nursing home citizens’ oversight committee for Iredell County (where I was active for 4 years) and the CFCR custody advocate program.
What is the most rewarding aspect of this volunteer work?
Simply the knowledge that you may be helping people, both parents and their children, through a very difficult time in their life and, most of all, contributing as much as possible to the wellbeing of the children involved. It is also rewarding to work with teams of dedicated lawyers who are helping to make the court system work more effectively and fairly for the children who are at risk in these proceedings.
Would you encourage others to volunteer? Yes. There is great satisfaction in trying to help people in difficulty, knowing that you may be able to make a positive difference in the lives of their children. It is at the same time an opportunity to become less centered on yourself (as we all tend to be as we pursue our careers) and to do something that is useful to others and to the community. This work is its own reward for those who believe in its importance.
Please share a story of a case you’ve worked on where you felt you really made a difference
In all honesty, I believe that all the cases I work on with teams at the Council really make a difference for the children we are representing. One striking example was a case in which grandparents, who were supposed to be taking care of two small children temporarily refused to return them to their parents–their son and his partner (unmarried). It was a complicated case because there were drugs and firearms issues, the son was doing time in jail, and the grandmother was abusive toward the mother, refusing to facilitate contact between her and her children. But the mother was working hard at a job, had found appropriate housing, and the father finished his time and got a job as well.
This case dragged on for a long while, but it became clear that the grandparents were not providing an appropriate educational environment for the kids, who were falling behind intellectually, and it was just as clear that the young parents had gotten their life back on track. They were both working and planning to marry, but the grandparents still would not let them have their kids back. The CFCR team eventually recommended that the court grant custody to the parents and visitation to the grandparents, and the judge agreed. We know that this outcome, the best one, we felt, for the kids involved, was only possible because of the intervention of the CFCR. I feel that we made a real difference in the lives of those beautiful little kids as well as in the lives of their parents.