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Interview with Liz Kachris-Jones,  March 18, 2009
March 18, 2009
Liz Kachris-Jones came to Wilmington from New York State in 1995 due to job change for husband. Her degrees were in Child Development, and Masters in Educational Psychology from Cornell. In 1998 Liz answered an ad for Exec. Administrator Guardian ad Litem Program, Fifth Judicial District, interviewed and hired immediately. The interview addresses selection and training of volunteers who become legal advocates for the neglected and abused child in court; and considered "agents" of the court, coordination with DSS as legal care giver and mandated to share information. Kachris-Jones shares these procedures, discusses how a child comes into the program, Foster care, background studies and follow through. Her final quote, heard from a volunteer, is "This is the hardest job you will ever Love."
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee: Kachris-Jones, Liz Interviewer: Jones, Carroll / Boyle, Erin Date of Interview: 3/18/2009 Series: SENC Notables Length 120 minutes

Jones: Today is Wednesday, March 18, 2009. I'm Carroll Jones with Erin Boyle for the Randall Library Special Collections Oral History Project in the Helen Hagen Room, Special Collections, UNCW. Our very special guest this morning is Liz Kachris-Jones and, by the way, am I pronouncing that correctly?

Kachris-Jones: I say Kachris but, you know, I accept the variations.

Jones: Anyway, Liz heads the Guardian ad litem. She's the executive director of the Guardian Ad Litem Program for the Fifth Judicial District, correct? And this program is about working directly with neglected and abused children taken into custody by the Department of Social Services, working with them, and making recommendations to the court on their behalf and this takes a very caring and dedicated person.

Kachris-Jones: Thank you.

Jones: Liz, before we get going on that, tell us a little bit, before we talk about the program tell us a little bit about yourself, where you're from, any educational background that brought you to this, your family, and how you became involved with Guardian Ad Litem. Now we don't need to know everything about that just kind of an overview.

Kachris-Jones: Sure. Well I think I'm like a lot of people in the Wilmington area. I'm a transplant, came here from the Finger Lakes area of New York State, grew up there, a little rural area, moved down here in 1995 because my husband works for Archer Daniels Midland.

Jones: And he still does?

Kachris-Jones: And he still does, yeah, thank goodness. In these times everybody worries. We came here as a result of that job transfer. At the time, we had three children in school. They're now all grown. I came to the Guardian Ad Litem program, I think, for a lot of different reasons, some personal, some professional. My education is in child development.

Jones: Well you're a natural.

Kachris-Jones: I studied at Wells College in Aurora, a tiny little women's college that's now gone co-ed and then started my graduate program at Cornell University and was in that program when we moved here.

Jones: Pretty good place.

Kachris-Jones: So, I love the water.

Jones: So your graduate degree was in child development?

Kachris-Jones: I was in educational psychology, program development more training and things like that but very interested in how that affected children, always interested in children.

Jones: You must have been a great mom.

Kachris-Jones: Oh, thank you. Well you have to ask the people who had to live with me all the years to determine that but I have great kids. They can tell you that. (laughs)

Jones: You test theories on them? (laughs)

Kachris-Jones: I'm sure I'm guilty of testing theories but I think I have great children so if that's of anything for it. I have three children, Jeffrey who is 26, Tara is 25, and Mitch who is 21, and two of them have finished their undergrad degrees and the third one is still in school.

Jones: That's not bad.

Kachris-Jones: I'm very proud of them.

Jones: Good for you.

Kachris-Jones: The two older ones are in California which is way too far away. My journey to working with children I think probably started very early. I have younger siblings. I was always kind of taking care. I was a young mother so I really was pretty invested in doing anything I could to do well, do right, and I enjoyed them a lot.

Jones: Good. That's a key. It is.

Kachris-Jones: I thought they were fascinating people and they still are. However, I also had friends growing up who didn't have the same experiences I did. I had a friend who was abused and that was really tough to see her journey and it to this day affects her. I also was familiar with the foster care system because my father was--I guess we would call it orphaned at a young age and ended up growing up in foster care. And so the reality of hearing him talk about not having parents hit me very young in life. I couldn't imagine life without parents, without my parents. And his father died young. His mother was not a citizen. She was not well. She was sent back to Greece. He never saw her again for ten, 15 years. And at that point, she didn't speak any English. He no longer spoke Greek, kind of tough.

Jones: Now these were his birth parents?

Kachris-Jones: That was his birth parents. And so he was an incredibly success-- is in my opinion an incredibly successful man in his own right in the face of that adversity but that led me in school, in college, to look at how children kind of deal with adversity and the different things that happen. What are the resources externally we can give children? What kind of resources do they bring to it? And that's kind of my goal in working with children now. This is the most vulnerable time in life for children when they are out of their families. They've been traumatized either by abuse or neglect. They don't have caregivers who were part of their daily life that they are familiar with necessarily. And how do we look at that in this culture and protect them and move them forward and get them back to their feelings if we can and get their feelings the strength they need, get the children the strength they need so that when they're adults they can then provide the resources to their children.

Jones: Have you seen, I'm skipping ahead a bit but I can't help it because there are too many questions going through my head, I don't have time for all of them, but have you seen children that have passed through grow older and come back and see what kind of human beings they've developed into?

Kachris-Jones: Sadly, yes.

Jones: You probably have a mix.

Kachris-Jones: And it is a mix. We've seen kids come into the system at young ages and we never see them again and we hope that that's the really good news that things have gone well, their lives have taken a path that's done well for them. Sometimes we see children come into the system, go back to their families, come back into the system throughout their childhood. And then sometimes we see them come into the system, grow up in the system, and then have children of their own who sometimes we do see them as parents then. Their children are in the system.

Jones: That's what I've heard that there's sort of a train there.

Kachris-Jones: There is still some of that happening. We all wish that we could kind of find the right set of resources and skills for them to make that change because we want that. We want children to be in their families. Unfortunately, it doesn't always work out that way.

Jones: Aren't there certain cases where children should not be with their family?

Kachris-Jones: Absolutely, there certainly are. Some people who have children are not equipped to be parents and despite the resources we try to provide to them they don't have the skills for a number of reasons, could be mental illness.

Jones: They don't know them.

Kachris-Jones: It could be just a mental incapacity, could be an addiction that they can't seem to make good judgments that involves anything that's serving their addiction and not kind of the world around them. Any of those things can incapacitate a parent and if they can't address it the children shouldn't be there.

Jones: Let's go back just a little bit because you're answering some questions and making remarks that I think many of us have probably been aware of or thought about. But you came here and you have certainly the educational background, good Lord, come to the point where you first joined Guardian Al Litem here. How did it come about? Did you seek them out?

Kachris-Jones: Interestingly, I have been with Guardian Ad Litem ten years, just now. It's going to be coming up in the next couple of weeks so it's an interesting perspective to start talking about this ten year look at the area because that's kind of my timeframe.

Jones: Well it's grown tremendously.

Kachris-Jones: Yeah, it really has.

Jones: That's why you're one of our candidates.

Kachris-Jones: Thank you. So I was working for the Partnership for Children at that time. I had worked with volunteers with them starting up some programs in schools and resourcing referrals in Brunswick County, had a good friend I met through that process who was a volunteer in Brunswick County, the Guardian Ad Litem. It wasn't a program I was even that familiar with.

Jones: Is this a national program?

Kachris-Jones: It has a national affiliate. Each state has a federal mandate to serve children who are named.

Jones: And it's through the courts?

Kachris-Jones: It is. All children who are abused and neglected in this country have to be represented independently.

Jones: That's what I wanted to hear, right.

Kachris-Jones: They have to. Each state can choose how they make that happen and in North Carolina we actually do have a model set up that lots of other states look at because we have an attorney and a volunteer working together and the volunteer is doing a lot of investigative work, a lot of hands on, knowing what's going on in those families on a very regular basis and informing the attorney and together they go to court and give the court system a picture of everything that's happening. Other states don't have that. Some states just have an attorney appointed. They can't do all that investigative work. They're appointed through the system. They don't have the ability or the time to work the way we work on behalf of children so it's a great model. We hope other people pick it up.

Jones: So ten years ago when you first started, almost ten years ago.

Kachris-Jones: Right, I didn't quite answer your question did I?

Jones: No that's all right.

Kachris-Jones: I came to it from a friend who loved being a volunteer who felt like this was some of the most important work she'd ever done and was always working through the Partnership for Children on behalf of children. What did children need in that community, abuse and neglect issues there as well? And the position was posted in New Hanover County, we serve New Hanover and Pender, and I applied on the very last day. I did. I really held out.

Jones: Do I or don't I?

Kachris-Jones: Because like what many people say it's hard heartbreaking work at times.

Jones: Yeah.

Kachris-Jones: I really had to do some soul searching. My children were still at home. I know me. I know the level of commitment I give to my work and I had to make some decisions about that. And so after, you know, discussing it with my family, my husband concerned, I did it and I am so glad I did. I feel like the work is incredibly valuable which is important to me as a person. I feel like I get a lot of reward knowing the volunteers, knowing families, knowing the people who reach out to the families and the children but it isn't always easy.

Jones: No, I can understand that.

Kachris-Jones: But I'm grateful for it, so ten years in I'm still glad to be doing it.

Jones: How did you begin, I mean in what capacity?

Kachris-Jones: As the district administrator, the position I'm in now.

Jones: Is that right?

Kachris-Jones: Mm-hmm.

Jones: How has it changed? How has it progressed?

Kachris-Jones: Well there is some sort of numbers you could look at in terms of progress, kind of statistical stuff that happens. And then there's policy changes and then there's courtroom changes. So I could tell you and I did bring some of the numbers just to give you an idea of the changes that we've seen in ten years. For example, kids come into the system and kind of under different headings, abuse being one, neglect being one, and dependency being one. And dependency is really a caregiver who is not available to the child and we just need to find a caregiver. There hasn't been necessarily an abuse or neglect in their household.

Jones: Is this perhaps something like a single mother who must work and there's no one to take care of the child?

Kachris-Jones: Well in that situation we would help to try to provide daycare services. It's possibly a single mother who's ill and isn't able to physically provide care.

Jones: So it could be a short-term or a long-term?

Kachris-Jones: It could. So that dependency heading kind of covers children who have not experienced abuse or neglect by the legal definition. The number of children and I can tell you in, let's go back, were coming into the system, new children, new cases, ten years ago around 115, 117. We're looking at '97, '98, gone up to around 150. That's children coming into the system.

Jones: And this is on an annual or monthly?

Kachris-Jones: Annual basis so at the end of '08 we were 130, between 130 and 150. It's a fluid number because every day it's changing.

Jones: And that's how many difference now?

Kachris-Jones: It's gone up maybe 30 percent. What I went back and looked at--

Jones: That's not bad when you consider in ten years our population has grown, yeah.

Kachris-Jones: It's fluctuating. A lot. It's grown faster than that. Now it's gone up and then come down and part of that is policy, how we do social work, how we look at how to keep children in families, how we provide services before children get taken from their families. So some of that is a result of trying to do the best possible social work that can be done, trying to provide the best possible services before children are removed. So we were at one point up to 170 in that ten year period, new children coming in. We served 799 children last year. That's high. That's come down a little as well but that's a big number. That's one of the highest numbers in North Carolina.

Jones: This is in 2008?

Kachris-Jones: Mm-hmm.

Jones: You served so that's in various capacities.

Kachris-Jones: We represented them in their court proceedings throughout the course of the year. So some of those children had been in the system the previous year and they closed out. Some of the children came in during that year and are still with us but that's the total number of children who are represented in court by our program so it's a big number.

Jones: So with that number how many at this time, how many representatives do you have, people do you have who are capable of being an advocate for these kids?

Kachris-Jones: We currently roster 150 volunteers.

Jones: Wow.

Kachris-Jones: I know that's wonderful. The community, that's a significant shift in this ten year time period. When I started we had about 65 volunteers for that number I gave you. We were serving then 65 volunteers, 269 families, now 150 volunteers. We're looking at 286, gone up 20 it looks like right but there are so many factors that influence that. So when I go back to that 799, some kids came in, some kids went out.

Jones: Right but that was overall.

Kachris-Jones: Overall in a year, 494 last year families we worked with; ten years ago 379, gone up more than 100 so it's still about a 30 percent increase. The volunteers though have more than doubled. The response from the community is phenomenal. We're very grateful. Your question the way you asked it was who are qualified people to do that and it's a volunteer program.

Jones: Right but they have training.

Kachris-Jones: It's mandated by the state and we train them. We put them through about 30 hours of training, which is about the same as foster parents get. That's a lot.

Jones: Do you have any background on them? You must do some.

Kachris-Jones: We do, yeah. We start out with an application. We screen that application through the sex offender registry, the criminal history checks. We do fingerprints if they haven't lived in the area for five years. We then do personal references, go through an interview, and then we admit them into training and at that point the training is still a screening process to make sure that we're learning enough information about their capacity, they're learning enough information of what we ask of them so that they feel like this is a good fit and we feel like this is a good fit. So last year we got about 180 inquiries about our program and we trained 32 people. Most people don't pursue the application to that end point. Lots of people self select out. We try to be as honest along the way of what we expect so that they know that they're getting into something that's very valuable that they think they can do and the community is phenomenal. We have great response from the community. The volunteers are to me the most rewarding part of my work, working with people who do the work because it's important to them. It's not because they get a paycheck. It's not because they think that this is going to be somehow real personally motivated. The personal motivation is about changing the life of a child.

Jones: How do these children come to you, Liz? How are they recommended and how are they identified?

Kachris-Jones: Every child who is named as abuser neglected and the Department of Social Services has to file a petition, every child we represent by state law.

Jones: But how are they identified as abused? How many children voluntarily seek help and how many children are a neighbor, a teacher, a relative, another kid, something like that, however the system works calls and said, "This child needs attention" or does a child voluntarily say "Help" or is it a doctor? I mean explain that to us.

Kachris-Jones: It can be any one of those scenarios that you've just identified some children. It's true. We've had children call the Department of Social Services or law enforcement and say, "I need help. We need help" either on their own behalf or because they had a parent who wasn't taking care of themselves and was not okay; neighbors. Teachers are the number one reporter. They see the children the most. They see them regularly so they can identify patterns of children coming to school and being tired and hungry and maybe not dressed appropriately, not prepared, and then they try to reach out to families. They may not get a response. That will kind of spark some concern and they are the number one reporters of children of that age group, school age children. Healthcare providers, the Health Department or medical professionals if they're seeing medical professionals, that doesn't always happen. So any one of those. They get identified and the portal is to call the Department of Social Services. If someone were to pick up the phone and call my office and that happens on occasion, I'm concerned about a child. It's my sister-in-law's child, whatever. They can call and then I direct them because the only way that anybody can effect some support is through the Department of Social Services. That is the way the laws are set up. So I'll give them the information to allow them to get that process going. And then when the department makes their assessment and says, "We need court intervention, this is serious" we need court intervention.

Jones: Now when it gets to that point do they make, you know, I know that there are some strange people out there, "I'm going to get even." Even the kids can say, "I hate my mom" because they're mad about something. Teachers, I don't think all young teachers are equipped. I have one that I've raised and she's very, very involved but still you can think ill of a situation which doesn't require it. I'm thinking back. I will never, ever forget taking my middle child into--all the children were due for some upgraded vaccination before going to summer camps or something, physicals, and my middle child was a real hit in the head. He really was. I had taken a dishcloth after he had totally mouthed me off and whacked him. He had a pair of swimming trunks on and it left a big, red mark all over his butt. Then I go to the doctor and I said, "Oh, no, no, no, no, I hit him with a cloth." He says, "I know. I know. We can tell the difference." But at the same time that doctor or nurse could have said, "Uh-oh." So my question to you is and I can pretty much guess but I want you to tell other people how is it determined that a case is for real and it's not just anger or ignorance?

Kachris-Jones: Well, I don't think I can fully answer the question to the level that the Department of Social Services representative would but I can tell you I understand it. I've been working with that system long enough.

Jones: Yeah.

Kachris-Jones: I mean there are laws about injuries, the types of injuries that children sustain, things like that, and what social workers who do that work, investigative work and assessment work are trained to do is ask lots of questions of a lot of people and so they'll start with the family if that's appropriate and they'll try to probe into what happens when we administer discipline in a home? What happens? How does a child respond or the parents respond? How does that unfold? What do other people in the child's life see, neighbors, medical providers, things like that, to get a picture of the functioning of the family. Typically, everybody wants to keep children in homes and so if they identify something their first response is to look at, "Can I keep this child in the home and provide resources to the family that will avoid this happening again" if it wasn't appropriate? If that's not safe, it's not viable, then they have to make those really hard decisions about "If I have to remove this child from the home, what kind of resources will this family need for the child to return? What does the court need to know? Are there family members who can take the child while the parents get the supports and skills they need, always looking for family first? So I don't do the assessments per se. I look at those assessments all this time but that is kind of their frontline thought process and they're trained to see the difference and so are medical professionals.

Jones: Right.

Kachris-Jones: Although I had a child who started walking at eight months and so he had little bruises from walking into a chair and bruises on his little shins from falling and went to the pediatrician and I thought, "Oh, dear" and he looked and I said, "Oh my gosh, he's got bruises all over."

Jones: Well this one I'm talking about would fall out of a tree.

Kachris-Jones: Yeah. And my pediatrician said, "These are the bruises of a child who's just learning how to walk." Bruises that don't happen on your shins, bruises that are in the middle of a child's back, bruises that are in places where children don't typically hurt themselves by natural falling they're trained to at least look for that and understand the distinction and we trust that. We have to because we can't know it all.

Jones: So when a child remains in the house with the parent or parents is there follow-up work done even occasionally? You got probably too many people out there who--

Kachris-Jones: I can tell you what happens when we're involved. I can't tell you what happens when the Department of Social Services does it.

Jones: No, I'm talking strictly about where you stand.

Kachris-Jones: The child is in the home. Often what happens when we get involved is the child has been removed. That's typically why court intervention is requested.

Jones: You mentioned something which I think needs to be brought out. When you are involved how does Guardian Ad Litem become involved?

Kachris-Jones: When the Department of Social Services determines that a child is not safe in their home, typically, they have to go ask the court to remove that child. They're basically taking custody away from a parent and asking for that custody to be assigned to them to protect the child. At the moment that the judge signs that paperwork we become the child's legal advocate.

Jones: Oh my gosh.

Kachris-Jones: And our role then is invested at that moment, so every time that happens we get that paperwork and then our office kind of starts to work on finding a volunteer to assign. We get a supervisor assigned. That's a staff person. And then we get an attorney assigned. We have three for our district. And we start our work.

Jones: Where does the child go if it's removed?

Kachris-Jones: Typically the department is going to look for a family if they can. Grandparents are raising lots of children and thank goodness they are. It's great for the children, great for the family. It's the least traumatic for a child, so family. They'll look for family that's available. If they can't find family right away, they will place the child in foster care and foster care is a heading that includes foster families, some group home placements for older children, and then from there group homes kind of have many levels of kind of care around them. But foster care is a term that I use that includes anything that's not in the family.

Jones: Anything at all, right.

Kachris-Jones: And it can be to the level of hospitalization for the child. So that's kind of how we start. The custody has been removed from the parent. We get involved. We become their advocate. We get all of our people in place as quickly as possible and we start looking at what's been happening in the family, so we go to the Department of Social Services. We look at medical records. We talk to schoolteachers, childcare workers, therapists if there are any. Certainly we talk to parents very early on.

Jones: So you actually put a caseworker on to follow a child through?

Kachris-Jones: Well the volunteer is doing all of that work with the support of a supervisor and an attorney advocate. That's why we give them the 30 hours of training. Volunteers are phenomenal. You don't have to have a background in child development. You can be a business person. You can be anything. If you care about kids, we'll give you the support to do the work. It's just being able to be at that ground level of talking. You have to talk and listen and care about what you hear and then you make assessments on that. You start verifying what you're being told by all these people and certainly, talking to the child and being a voice for that child, which is a two-part component; a voice for that child in terms of what does this child need to grow into a healthy, productive adult, kind of long-term thinking? What do we need now for that child to be in a safe home with their family? And if that can't happen, what do we need to put in place for that child to grow up in a safe home, whatever that can--like, it could be an adoptive home, it could be a relative home, whatever. But we want to find that and we want to find it as quickly as we can if the parents aren't going to be able to do that job. So that's part number one of being a voice, representing the best interest. Part number two is when the child starts getting to the age where they know what they want, they start telling you, and we have to tell the court, "You know, the child wants this." Now, we may not be recommending it, and often, you know, kids want all sorts of things like ice cream for breakfast. It's not always in their best interest, so we don't always give it to them (laughs) you know. Most children want to be with their parents.

Jones: No matter what?

Kachris-Jones: No matter what.

Jones: I can understand that.

Kachris-Jones: Right. And so we have to help them reconcile when they can be; that's part of our role.

Jones: So the parent then must go through some other avenue, some kind of restructuring or training?

Kachris-Jones: We hope. I mean, and that's part of the recommendations we would provide to the court. If we identified that the problem is a substance abuse problem, we would suggest things like substance abuse treatment and support systems around that substance abuse treatment, and looking for some financial stability and some housing stability, if those are issues in the family. If it's some sort of undiagnosed mental illness that we don't know it's what it is, but we think that may be part of what's going on, we would ask them to seek some sort of therapeutic assessment to determine if that's the case and get into a treatment plan and medication plan, if that's appropriate, to address that, so that their thinking and judgment maybe can change about their decision making for their child. And a mental illness sometimes can really interfere with that. We want them to get that treatment. So it could be--

Jones: Like bipolar, I suppose, being something.

Kachris-Jones: Right, exactly. And certainly if it's undiagnosed or they're not maintaining their treatment for that. What we know is that for bipolar people, a lot when they're feeling good on their medication, they stop taking it and then things start to unravel, and it's hard for them. So we want to see them kind of maintain that care level in what they need to do, so the child is kind of fluctuating in an environment that's very uncertain and unstable, at times. I mean, it can get to that level. Other things that bring children--with their parents, domestic violence in the home, children being exposed to pervasive domestic violence can be very traumatizing, and they can actually be caught in the crossfire physically, if it's escalating. And so giving the parents an opportunity to address their way of dealing with their frustrations together, dealing with controlled issues between the perpetrator of the violence and the victim of the violence, so that they deal with themselves in a different way, and if they can't do that and they don't separate, the children may not be able to go safely back into that home.

Jones: Do you find sometimes that children of any age, because this is Mom or Dad or both, that they won't deal with the reality of it, that this is a way of life?

Kachris-Jones: You know, I think it's really hard. They love their parents, they want to be with their parents, they see good things in their parents. And that's good. We don't want to take that away. What we want to do is help them see that there are other alternatives than the ones that they currently see in their life, and so it takes a lot of listening and a lot of support. So we would advocate for therapy for children who were struggling with that issue of, "My parents didn't do anything wrong," you know. And we have parents who come to us to say, "This is the way I grew up."

Jones: Well, this is what I was getting to. I have read so often and heard so often that any kind of abuse of anything begets abuse in the next generation, because they grow up thinking, "Well, this was normal in my home."

Kachris-Jones: It's an interesting statistic that can sometimes be skewed.

Jones: Or the other way; it can go completely the other way.

Kachris-Jones: What we know is that people who are incarcerated or in prisons and things like that, we know that a lot of them have been abused or neglected as children. We know that. That doesn't mean that everyone who's abused and neglected will end up in prison, but we know that that outcome and that correlation exists very clearly. So what's one of the reasons we do what we do? We want to try to change that path. So the other side of that, I guess for me, is I think what you were alluding to, is some people become insistent that they aren't going to do those things, much like a person who's grown up in an alcoholic household who says, "I will never drink." You know, there are those who make that choice and then there are those who become alcoholic, even though that's not what they want. You know, nobody chooses a lifestyle that's very painful for them. So I think both things happen with abuse and neglect as well. We have people who work very hard; they don't want this to happen in their family. They try very hard, but they bear the pain of whatever they grew up with, probably quite privately. For those who find themselves then acting much like the patterns they grew up with, hopefully the resources in the community are helping them. And that's kind of where we see ourselves.

Jones: Yeah. You know, I think a lot of us, we're hit with it on the news because news is so quick and so frequent. Two cases that in the past have just been all over the news the last several months were two little girls in Florida, a little different. And you think, "Why didn't somebody do something?" In each case, there were people who knew there was bad stuff going on; why didn't they do something? Is it because the ego won't let them, or what? I mean, I'm sure that you've had a few in your head.

Kachris-Jones: That is a source of a lot of psychology studies (laughs). I mean, going way back to the Holocaust. I mean, a lot of those psychology studies about, you know, "Why didn't anybody act on what was happening in these concentration camps?"

Jones: Well, how could they?

Kachris-Jones: I don't think they totally answered, but there are lots of studies about that, and they continue to be studied. And in fact, on TV last night, there's an ABC show called 'What Would You Do?' and they often are looking at bystander effect; that's what it's called, bystander effect, where people are all witnessing something and many people will not act, and then there are those people who will. And trying to understand, what is going on for the people who act? What is making them take that stuff that no-one else in that same situation is willing to do? And I can't certainly spend--those are psychology majors. It's like I'm very (laughs) familiar with this stuff and find it fascinating, so I can't kind of explain it all, because I don't think we understand it all yet.

Jones: You know, that's very interesting thing because we've all had those experiences, whether it's with a person who's been--from the time you're a kid, kids ganging up on another kid or whatever it is. Or watching accidents and not coming forward, anything like that, and there are people saying, "Don't get involved, don't get involved, don't get involved. Just stay away, don't get involved." And then there are others who feel that they have to.

Kachris-Jones: And those are the ones that, you know, probably find our programs volunteers (laughs) and I'm so grateful for that. I will say that one thing, with regard to our program and the children that we serve, that people worry about is if I call, maybe my sense of what's happening is inaccurate and I've put somebody through something very shameful, very hard and painful for them, and I was wrong. What if I'm wrong? So they kind of question themselves, and the questioning of themselves protects not the person who's the victim in the situation, but potentially the person who may be the perpetrator or the person doing the harm. And so I would always encourage, you know, I think that we need to trust our guts a lot in this world.

Jones: I think you're right.

Kachris-Jones: And we need to kind of assess, and I've been one of those people. Like, you're out in public and you kind of see the meltdown in a family, right? And you're like, "Hmm, what do I do with this?" (laughs) and you kind of have to assess that and decide what is it that's happening here that makes me uncomfortable? And what am I seeing as risks to all those involved? Sometimes just saying to the parent or the child, you know, just kind of creating a distraction, you know. Everybody has a bad day, we understand that.

Jones: Oh, yes.

Kachris-Jones: And kids have meltdowns sometimes in very public places.

Jones: Oh, yes.

Kachris-Jones: We understand that, but there are things, like when you see someone going on a tirade at their child in a very publicly demeaning way, you have to wonder what's being sad when they're in private. Because if that behavior can happen in public, we all have a public face and a private face, and if we see something in public that's really extreme, then I think that we have to tell ourselves, "What does that mean about what's happening in private?"

Jones: Yeah, I suppose so. I think some people get to be a little bit too nosy at times, but anyway (laughs).

Kachris-Jones: You know, it takes all kinds (laughs).

Jones: Have you seen changes in the past 10 years as to either a certain type of neglect, abuse, whatever or have you seen an increase in--taking into consideration there's been a growth in population, that aside--have you seen any changes at all; either in the way adults react, the children that you're seeing, are they the same old things over and over again, do you see new patterns?

Kachris-Jones: I mean, there are five general categories of abuse and neglect that we see. I don't think the categories have changed, and those would be substance abuse--addiction, alcoholism, that category--domestic violence category, mental illness--mental health issues, mental capacity issues--sexual abuse and physical abuse. I went back and I looked at some of our numbers; most cases, 90 to 95 percent of our cases come in under the heading of 'neglect'. So sexual abuse and physical abuse don't fall under that heading. We don't see cases come in very often, and this is that kind of nuance of what the community understands about abuse and neglect. Most kids come in neglected; neglect is a pervasive challenge.

Jones: What do you consider neglect? Some instances.

Kachris-Jones: Exposure to domestic violence, instability in the home due to an addiction, being exposed to people who are not safe because of an addition or a mental illness, or the domestic violence things; that all falls under neglect. Abuse is very clearly physically harming someone, either by sexual assault or by hurting them with your hands or with some other implement that leaves serious injury. Inappropriate discipline is not abuse. Inappropriate discipline is, you know, hitting a child, leaving a mark that has lasted for days, things like that. That's not abuse, and--

Jones: Abuse is more on a constant basis, or a continuing basis?

Kachris-Jones: Or a single event that was so severe that the child is seriously injured and needed medical attention.

Jones: Okay, I understand that.

Kachris-Jones: So those are the categories. When I went back and I looked at how many cases came in under abuse 10 years ago, we actually had five total in that year. That's it. It's not a category where cases come in. Now, last year, it's double; 10. That doesn't seem like a very big number when you're serving 800 children.

Jones: Right.

Kachris-Jones: But what's noteworthy is that kids come in for neglect, and then we find out that possibly, abuse has happened. The hallmarks and people, what they're seeing on the face of it, is a child who's withdrawn or a child who's very attention-seeking, a child who's not getting their basic needs met, that's neglect. And then once they are safely in a place where that's being addressed, you start to hear maybe that there was some physical or sexual abuse out there that we didn't know about initially. So it's not that it's not happening, that the two things co-exist; it's just that we don't hear about it initially. The report doesn't come in that way. The report comes in because of the neglect that's very identifiable.

Jones: Talk about your volunteers. Do they work hand-in-hand with the court system, somebody in the courts, on a regular basis? Do they have papers they have to prepare to show what's happening, weekly, monthly, whatever it is? I've heard great things about Ben David, who's a friend, and some new policies he's trying to get through and has done, but he can't do it all (laughs).

Kachris-Jones: No, nobody can do it all.

Jones: Although he must be a great father. He's got a kid with him everywhere he goes (laughs). I hope that they're his.

Kachris-Jones: And I appreciate that kind of focus on children and want that to continue to be cultivated by everyone in the community. I think our awareness around children's needs, my hope is that it only continues to grow.

Jones: Talk about the relationship between the courts and the volunteers.

Kachris-Jones: The volunteers do submit written reports to the court. They go to court whenever the family that's assigned to them--and when I say 'family', I'm really meaning the children in that family. They don't represent the parents in that family.

Jones: How many at a time can they do? Just one at a time or do they have more than one?

Kachris-Jones: They can have more than one. We have volunteers that have one case, because that's what suits their lifestyle, their needs, their desires; we have volunteers who have seven, eight cases. And that's totally up to them. We don't impose that on them, we just let them do that, because they've cultivated their skill and their comfort level with the work. So in terms of their relationship with the court, the Guardian Ad Litem program is a court program, so we are funded through the court funding. So their relationship with us kind of puts that into that. They become an agent of the court. When they're done with their training, they are sworn in by a judge, they take an oath of confidentiality, they become an agent of the court. They have an incredible amount of authority and power to gather information so that they can make really powerful recommendations, informed recommendations, to the judge. And that is given to them through state law. So they can access school records, medical records, mental health records for the children, DSS records, anything that they need to help them be informed enough to make the recommendations needed for this child to be successful in life.

Jones: So they are real pros?

Kachris-Jones: They have a lot of authority, and we expect them to hold that authority with honor. It's a lot, and--

Jones: So they work directly with the child?

Kachris-Jones: They meet the child, they see the child, they're not allowed to transport the child, they're not a caregiver to the child. They're an advocate. They look for the services and the resources, they work with the social worker and the caregivers to put those things in place.

Jones: How does a social worker and your volunteers interact? In what capacity? Do they compare notes?

Kachris-Jones: They do. The Department of Social Services becomes the legal custodian of the child, so they're ultimately their legal caregiver, and they assign a foster parent or a family member, whomever, to be the day-to-day caregiver, but they're the legal caregiver. And so they ought to be having all of the information about the child that anyone has. And so it's my philosophy that if we know something about that child, they need to know something about that child. They are mandated to share what they know about that child with us, because we're their legal advocate. We can't make good recommendations if we don't have a full set of information. So it's a very close relationship. Sometimes it works better than others, you know. Sometimes we see things very similarly, sometimes we see things somewhat differently. The Department of Social Services mandate is to re-unify families. That is their mandate and that is what the law tells them they must do for at least one year. Our mandate is to represent the best interests of the child. They are not the same. They don't always co-exist well. But we understand that if children can be in families, that's where we want them, and so we work at that and we see if it can happen, but sometimes we go into court and we don't agree.

Jones: I was going to ask you that.

Kachris-Jones: Often it's things like, you know, the reunification process has progressed. Maybe we didn't think it progressed enough for the child to go home, but they think it did, so they're asking the judge to send the child home and we're saying, "We want to wait. We want to just have some weekend visits or something." Often, we can try to work that out before we get to court. It's a much stronger experience for the judge if we come in and agree on it, but we don't always, and that's okay. We don't have the same jobs, we don't have the same role.

Jones: Because you're looking at it from a little bit different perspective.

Kachris-Jones: Exactly. We often can come in with additional things about the child that we want the court to know that aren't about, necessarily, the child just in the family, but just about that child.

Jones: The child, do you ever take it into court to talk too?

Kachris-Jones: oh, yeah. Children now have the--well, they've always had the right to come to court if they were over 12. A lot of laws have been passed about how children know that. It used to be that it was pretty informal and it makes judges uncomfortable to have young people in court.

Jones: I guess so.

Kachris-Jones: Because it can be a misperception on the child's part about how much power they have in this process and it can be real hard on them to hear some of the things that could be said.

Jones: They've probably been given a lot of advice (laughs).

Kachris-Jones: Well, so we're ultimately their attorney in this process; that's what we do. So what's happened in the last 10 years is that laws and policies have changed. The children now must be informed. If they're in our system, at the age of 12, they have to be informed that there is a court proceeding and that they have a right to come. And I looked at that number. When I started 10 years ago, I might've seen two children from 12 to 18 come to court. In the last six months, I saw 58. So they're coming and they're speaking, and they want to be heard and they want to understand what's happening. They're looking at their lives and they're saying, "Yeah, it's all happening. People are making decisions about where I live and who I live with and what my parents do. I don't feel like people are telling me. I don't know that I trust what people are telling me without seeing it first-hand." That's where they are.

Jones: They're just a little more aware.

Kachris-Jones: Ultimately, to me, it's a balancing act. I think that that can be a very difficult experience for a child, depending on their maturity, depending on their emotional state, depending on where they are in their understanding of their parents' problems and why they are in custody. That can be very difficult and they can come away from that not having resolved, within themselves, what's been happening. And the court takes great pains, and we take great pains, and all the time, we're looking at more ways to do that in a way that's going to be okay for the child. The other piece is we want children who, you know, when they're legally an adult, to know how to be advocates for themselves. That's ultimately our job as parents and adults in the community.

Jones: I was going to ask you what--

Kachris-Jones: Yeah, so if this is part of what they need to learn, I think that's a good thing. They also have to know how to behave in a courtroom, you know (laughs). You have to be respectful, you have to dress appropriately; you can't wear your hat, you know. Little things, but at the same token, it's very empowering for them to be able to come into court, stand up and the judge hear what they have to say and the judge say back, and our judges are really good about this, "Thank you for coming, thank you for sharing with me what you want."

Jones: So what you're getting is their perspective.

Kachris-Jones: And we have, as their advocate, an obligation to provide that to the court. At the same time, it can be a little uncomfortable if the child stands up and says, "I want this," and we then say, "But we're not recommending that." So the volunteer pretty much has to let the child know that that's how it's going to happen before we show up, so that they aren't surprised and then they can ask all the questions they need to ask. And I think that at that level, when we can help them become advocates for themselves, we're doing them a great service.

Jones: Yeah, of course you are. What is your attrition as far as volunteers are concerned (laughs)?

Kachris-Jones: (laughs) Well, you know, I'm really proud of our program and you have to understand something about the nature of people who volunteer to kind of look at attrition. So we have 150 volunteers. Last year, we trained about 32; last year, we lost about 27. What's informative about that is that 100 of those 150 volunteers have been with us for at least two years, so they come and they stay. Some of them have been with us 16, 17 years, so it's pretty powerful when you look at it from that perspective. We don't lose a lot of people midway through a case. People come, they thought this was right, they get in and is months in, they go, "Okay, now that I really have a sense of what I'm doing, I really feel like this isn't right." And we respect that. That's fine. It's a volunteer job; it has to feel good for them and for us. And sometimes we have to have that conversation, you know. That's not easy either, but sometimes it just isn't the right match. So there are some people in that first year who just kind of say, "Okay, now that I've looked at it." What often happens is people will come in, they'll volunteer and we ask them to make a commitment to see the case through to its end point, where we're closing it out, the child's in a safe (inaudible). Lots of people do that and then they say, "Okay, now my next volunteer job is Literacy Council," and they leave us for that. And that's okay. I mean, they have kind of mapped out how they want to volunteer in the community, they want to try a lot of different things. I appreciate that.

Jones: Liz, let's stop for a minute so we can change tapes. I have a few more questions I want to ask.

Kachris-Jones: I could talk a lot about this.

Jones: No, that's all right. This is interesting as I knew it would be, and it's unfortunate that we have to have this kind of service, but we do. So that's the fortunate part. But I have a few more questions and I think that it's necessary.

Kachris-Jones: Okay, thanks. I didn't even catch the five minute notice, I was so busy talking.

(Tape Change)

Jones: Liz, talk a little bit about your funding. You are unlike the non-profits, the run of the mill non-profits. You come under different jurisdictions and explain the difference between the two because in New Hanover County or southeastern North Carolina there are hundreds of non-profits. And my feeling, and this is only my feeling, is that there are too many vying for the same dollar trying to do the same good work as yours.

Kachris-Jones: The Guardian Ad Litem Program is a public non-profit, so we are funded, our program, our staff, the training of our volunteers is all funded through the state. We exist by state statute. The state funds our program. The county, the local county, is mandated by state law to provide us with offices and phones and things like that so it's a kind of dual government support system so to speak. Beyond that, the work of the program is the life blood which is the volunteers and they kind of give us that unique non-profit status as a public non-profit that they do all that work. So we assign them. We do all that that I explained with the children. They sign on for us and they don't get paid. They're volunteers like any other non-profit in the community and we need them. We can't survive without them but we don't fundraise to do that training. The state government, the legislature determines from year to year and this year we don't know what that's going to look like how much money we're going to have to do the work that we are statutorily mandated to do.

We do have, which makes us a bit of a different animal in the world of non-profit, an association that is local to us. Not every Guardian Ad Litem Program in the state has this. It's called the Cape Fear Guardian Ad Litem Association and they are a 501(c)(3) non-profit so they can accept donations that are charitable donations and they fundraise on behalf of the children we serve and to help support the success of our program. So they help us do PR, public awareness, get the word out about who we are, what we do, and that we need volunteers, always need volunteers. The big thrust of their effort and their fundraising is to bring money to the program to help the children that we serve have some experiences they might not otherwise have because they are in the custody of the Department of Social Services. So they have a campaign called Help a Kid be a Kid and they raise money to send them to camps or to get tutoring or to go to cultural events in the community like Thalian Hall or the Aquarium or the Battleship or something that we haven't thought of or I haven't named that would be of great benefit to them, help them get instruments to play a musical instrument, things that the resources of the Department of Social Services has would never be able to provide, which may, you know we may in fact by doing that and hopefully we are cultivate some real self-esteem builders and some life skills that are going to take them into their adulthood.

Jones: A different part of life.

Kachris-Jones: Right, right and so that association is more similar to the other non-profits in the community. They're like a friends of the library or a PTA or something like that and they do the fundraising that happens in this community for us. And it is a pretty competitive field fundraising and the non-profits in this community are all really great. We have lots of need. We have lots of good effort but we are the only non-profit that's doing that particular fundraising.

Jones: Well I think that's marvelous but I'm glad to hear there's friends of--that there's so many friends and children do have an opportunity to visit areas to open their minds and their eyes to a different way of life. I think Thalian Hall, acting out is certainly one way of doing it.

Kachris-Jones: We had a child, just to kind of build on that, we had a child who through benefit of our association was able to get--he was in the Dreams Program, which is not something that anybody had to pay for. He enrolled in the Dreams Program, a great non-profit.

Jones: It is.

Kachris-Jones: But cultivated a desire for acting and drama and dance, got through the association some real specific lessons, got into Thalian, tried out, auditioned, got into that. That was great. Through that exposure and his effort with that he actually went with Tracy of Dreams up to Washington, D.C. when they got their award.

Jones: Oh that's terrific.

Kachris-Jones: You know the overlap is powerful and the benefit to that young man is pretty grand. So those things happen and they matter. They make a big difference. They matter.

Jones: You bring up Dreams and I think they've certainly progressed and come a long ways. I know Tracy and Paul and I know what she's been doing and she's got a great outlook and quite a sense of humor. It's been my thought as we talked off camera, this is only mine, that there are too many non-profits and these non-profits not your group but they're draining the dollars. They could all, not all of them but so many of them doing the same work could get together and really, really make a difference. You mentioned to me about a program that you grew up with, were familiar with in upstate New York. Can you explain that again? In the event somebody is watching this and listening to it and says, "Hey that's a good idea?"

Kachris-Jones: It's called the Human Services Coalition and it's a non-profit but it gets money from the municipalities and they kind of oversee the money from the municipalities, the county and towns in that county and administer the books and help them train and so it creates a coalition of those non-profit entities and they work together so that they don't have people working at cross purposes. They don't have people all funding through this after the same dollars. I had a friend who worked there for a long time, always felt really good about it. It makes sense in a lot of ways.

Jones: It does, yeah.

Kachris-Jones: Because it kind of puts everybody under an umbrella that says, "We share these same values. We share the same vision. We want to work together. Let's look at how we can do that and not have people doing double work really." If you have five people all out doing the same thing for the same end goal it can be pretty devastating when none of them get it. We don't want that outcome either and in this economy that can be a worry for all the non-profits who are trying to raise money but they're not going to get it.

Jones: Do you have some success stories aside from the one you just spoke about, the young man? Does anybody follow these kids through? I mean the courts, DSS probably does more but still isn't it kind of rewarding sometimes?

Kachris-Jones: Oh, it's incredibly rewarding and the hardest part about talking about the Guardian Ad Litem Program is that people always kind of get so heartbroken about why we know them that it's hard to listen to what happens and where we're going. And where we're going is to safe, permanent homes. Success it's pretty normal I mean in the sense that 60 percent of our kids often go back to a family. That's pretty wonderful and that family is better equipped to take care of them.

Jones: People working with the family at the same time.

Kachris-Jones: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It's the only way it can work. I mean first of all the family has to want it. The parents have to accept what's happening and want things to be different. That's key. But then getting resources and success in that sense in the statistical, numerical sense. There are lots of children who stand out. I can't talk about them because of confidentiality.

Jones: Right.

Kachris-Jones: But I can give you some ideas.

Jones: That's all I need.

Kachris-Jones: We have kids here who have been adopted into homes where we get to hear about them over time and they've cultivated skills and they're doing well in school and they're happy and they're able to look at their future in a way that's very bright and powerful and they want to come back and help. We've met people who come to us as volunteers who maybe we didn't know them through our program but they came through the system and said, "I remember my Guardian Ad Litem from where I lived."

Jones: And wanted to give back.

Kachris-Jones: "And I want to do this. This is important. I'm informed." There's something very powerful about personal experience and what it can bring to someone else and to share that is such a gift and so I'm always very grateful for that. We have children who go back with their families or they're with a grandmother who's done wonderful things. She's a single woman, possibly the mother is not well or has not been able to succeed and she's raising those children, this grandmother, and the children have--for example, we met a family years and years ago living in a very harsh home, really not inhabitable. Grandma took them in. The school had determined six kids. The school had determined that a couple, I think three, of the children were all in special classes, kind of thinking they were borderline mentally retarded.

Jones: Yeah, a little slow.

Kachris-Jones: By the time we closed that case years later, it took years, these children were honor students. They were identified due to environmental neglect that they were slow. They just didn't have the right stimulation and the right skills. A couple of those children went onto college. They were honor roll students. The impact that you can have is so powerful. It can feel hard when you hear about the trauma and I think that what we all have is a compassion. It's hard to hear about trauma. It's hard to hear about children who are so vulnerable whose lives feel really turned inside out and we have to kind of jump into that with them. But if we don't, then who will? And I don't like that kind of ultimatum for the community. If you don't do it, who will? I think though that we have to say to ourselves, "These are our children in our community and we want better for all of them like we want for our own." And if it feels like it's something that's important to you, then we have the place to do it.

Jones: I'm sure you heard this and read cases on this in your education in child development and psychology classes but I have seen it myself. I grew up in Los Angeles, went to a private girls' school and so many of the girls in the school, now this is from very young all the way through, were adopted. Their parents for one reason or another, some of them were movie colony people but not all. They were at different levels. You would never know it because they took on, they began to look like a parent. They spoke like a parent. They had some of the mannerisms. A good friend of my family's who was a doctor and I don't remember because I never had to go to him for anything what he was a doctor of but he said here is a perfect case that he saw over and over where environment would supersede genes. Obviously you've seen something like this or you learned this.

Kachris-Jones: The nature/nurture controversy just in my opinion just needs to go away. We know biology is going to indicate certain things for us and we know environment is going to indicate certain things and so the idea that one is going to trump the other I think we just want to abandon. Personally I think we need to abandon it. I think the world that I work in proves that pretty well. There are certain things you cannot change with biology and genetics. You just can't change them. You can adapt. You can try to compensate.

Jones: Well I believe that too having raised four kids.

Kachris-Jones: Me too.

Jones: They don't look alike our three natural children.

Kachris-Jones: No, they don't always act alike.

Jones: Not a one resembles the other and they're all completely different personalities.

Kachris-Jones: At the same time, a law in terms of environment can help either mitigate or enhance certain things and I think that's the role that parents provide and it's a very long view of what it is. Parents, community, anybody who's working with children has that opportunity. So the whole, do people take on the kind of mannerisms of the people around them, yeah. I mean if you watched a group of teenagers you would know. Absolutely and they weren't born together. Absolutely that happens.

Jones: I think a college sorority is the same way.

Kachris-Jones: Absolutely.

Jones: And they're not kids.

Kachris-Jones: Right.

Jones: Well they are.

Kachris-Jones: And I think even as adults we tend to kind of share certain ways of talking and ways of being with people with whom we associate. I don't think that that's unusual.

Jones: So it actually goes back to moving a child from a poor background, by poor I mean not economically but into somewhere that's more stable. Eventually you hope they're going to adapt to that.

Kachris-Jones: We hope. The key and you brought up something that we didn't touch on that I really find very, very important.

Jones: Please do.

Kachris-Jones: Children who I work with, children who come into the foster care system often experience instability before we meet them in the sense of caregivers. Instability in caregivers is an incredible challenge to children who are growing up. They come in. Maybe mom's left them with this person and then left them with that person and is in and out or dad or whoever that person is but the child's been left with a lot of caregivers. Some of them may have been incredibly good at that role and some of them may not have been good at it at all and, in fact, harmful. Then they come into the Department of Social Services and if they're not with family they're in the foster care system and the foster care system is not necessarily a real stable system either.

So if the child and the foster family aren't a good match, the child can move or if they're in a group home and they want to be closer or they need different services than this one provides they can be moved. The more children experience that level of caregiver instability, the more detrimental to their development it becomes so that what happens is what we know is that as children experience multiple caregivers the outcomes in adulthood indicate that they are more likely to be homeless. They're more likely to be victims of crime. They are more likely to be perpetrators of crime. They are more likely to be incarcerated. They are more likely to need mental health services and unemployment services. They are more likely not to have graduated from high school or have a skill that allows them to be long-term employed and they're more likely to need services from the Health Department, public services. So across the board, the instability in a caregiver is the number one thing that if we can affect that we have affected something very, very powerful.

Jones: That's interesting.

Kachris-Jones: So that comes up sometimes. These people say, "Well instability, well I moved a lot as a military kid." That's not the same thing.

Jones: Oh, it's not.

Kachris-Jones: It's the same caregiver. It's the same caregiver over time.

Jones: That's right.

Kachris-Jones: It's hard and you learn different skills.

Jones: And you were protected by mom and dad.

Kachris-Jones: And all of those things can be true but if you experience caregiver after caregiver after caregiver and the younger you are when that's happening the more difficulty to develop trust in adults and if you don't have trust then the world is just never going to feel safe and everything you do and everything someone is doing around you becomes suspect. And if you can't ever get past that as a human being it makes it very hard to feel successful and proactive.

Jones: Now this is interesting because, tell me this, when DSS or the courts, you have a volunteer who is then assigned a case.

Kachris-Jones: Mm-hmm.

Jones: Part of the information they get could it be on a child who--in other words, is there a profile so that your volunteer pretty much knows before meeting the child or the parents or whatever to expect a possible pattern or a possible personality?

Kachris-Jones: Sometimes. Sometimes we can get that information and we have it. Sometimes we just don't know it. And sometimes the children who come into custody here have been living that unstable life in a lot of other places before they got here and so we can't extract that information from where they've been. It eventually comes out hopefully depending on the age of the child.

Jones: Do you have any kind of data or is it necessary on such things as I guess financial capabilities of the parents, educational levels, other children in the family, any success stories and then something has gone awry?

Kachris-Jones: Mm-hmm.

Jones: You do or nationalities as an example?

Kachris-Jones: Well thanks for asking all of that. I'll do my best to kind of touch on it. I can tell you what I know about who we see. Who we see are parents who most often qualify for court-appointed counsel, so what that tells us is they are economically deprived. They have economic needs that don't even allow them to kind of get their own attorney. So we know that they function at a distress level in terms of their finances. Most of the parents who come in are typically mothers and they're often single mothers. Sometimes they're young. Sometimes they're not.

Jones: Ever been married, some of them never been married?

Kachris-Jones: Some of them never been married, some of them married, some of them--I mean pick.

Jones: Whatever, in between.

Kachris-Jones: Yeah. But often the children are being removed from a mother, a single mother. Fathers are in the community. We try to find them, try to see what family members might be out there but that's another qualification or indicator. Currently in our caseload and this has pretty much been true throughout the ten years, the demographics of our community as a whole have changed.

Jones: Yes.

Kachris-Jones: We used to be--I think when I moved here maybe around 21 percent African American, 75 percent Caucasian, and then some mix of different things for the remainder of that 100 percent. Now we're under 20 percent African American. We're high 70s in terms of Caucasians. Our Latino and Hispanic population have increased as well. What's not really changed is that the number of Caucasian children in custody is still around 48 percent. That has not changed in ten years.

Jones: Amazing.

Kachris-Jones: So what's really informative here is that about 48 percent ten years ago were African American in a community that only had at that time around 20 percent African American population. That's gone down. We still have about the same amount of African American children in custody. The number of Latino/Hispanic children who are in custody went from under one percent to about three percent now.

Jones: They usually take care of their own no matter what.

Kachris-Jones: They tend to be big family.

Jones: Right.

Kachris-Jones: They try to, you know.

Jones: What do you attribute that to in the Caucasian family just is it an economic thing because this town--let me throw this out first. I was going to ask you something along that line because when we first spoke and I told you what prompted us to do these oral histories was the huge change not just in population but how it affected so many parts of the quality of life here that statistic showed among other things we have one of the highest income levels in the state that we had one of the highest educational levels in the state and we had a high ratio of retired, young retired people with good incomes. Those are basically the people who've come down here.

Kachris-Jones: Mm-hmm.

Jones: So I'm curious and I guess a lot of people are curious is to if perhaps some of these less educated, well off Caucasians that this has been perpetuated over generations and it's just now showing up or are you finding something different?

Kachris-Jones: I'm not sure that what I'm going to say is going to answer your question.

Jones: That's all right. We're just talking.

Kachris-Jones: What I see in Wilmington is that there's a pretty significant disparity of wealth.

Jones: Yes.

Kachris-Jones: And so there are a number of people who are very comfortable. Their affluence is very established.

Jones: Right.

Kachris-Jones: There are also a number of housing developments, public housing developments which indicate a low wealth, no wealth families and you have that. Now when we had an economy not like the one we're sitting in today, people were working in the service industry. Those are drying up. Those positions are gone right now and we just don't have--our unemployment is going up. I mean we were an underemployed community when I moved here.

Jones: Right.

Kachris-Jones: That's not true anymore.

Jones: No.

Kachris-Jones: Who were working in those jobs were families, construction work, all of that.

Jones: But everybody contributed to the pot.

Kachris-Jones: People were doing all that. It's always been true. I think the thing that's true across the board for ten years in our caseload is that the families who come in qualify for court-appointed counsel which says it has always been true that the children who come into the system come from families who economics is distressed that when we do see children come into the system, and we do see them come out of Landfall and we do see them come out of other places, they don't stay in the system.

Jones: No.

Kachris-Jones: And one of the reasons is those families have economic resources to--

Jones: Get professional care.

Kachris-Jones: To do certain things. To navigate the court system. They know how. They have the resources to do it and they do it. The families that we see more commonly don't have either the internal resources or the external resources to navigate that system as well. There are real problems in those families. It's not like, you know, poverty is not a reason for children to be in custody, never has been, never will be. But it is a very real stressor that then can predicate other things that are happening. So I think that that across the board is probably the biggest indicator. I think it's compelling when you look at who we serve that in a community where demographics are disproportionate 17 percent of our community identifies themselves African American. Forty-eight percent of the children in our caseload are African American. There is something that we need to do about is it the way that we serve in that community? Is it what's happening in terms of economics? What's happening? We need to do a better job of looking at that question and trying to resolve it because we want all the children to be back in their families if they can be. And so that's a national challenge that's happening.

Jones: It is.

Kachris-Jones: We see African American and Latino children come into the system. They stay longer across the board across this country. They stay longer and they move more, and so that instability starts. It's not necessarily because of anything the children have done. So we have work to do.

Jones: Ah, Liz, is there anything else you'd like to add to this that would be eye opening or add some information? You've done a wonderful job. You are a good speaker.

Kachris-Jones: Thank you.

Jones: And you get the point across. Don't you agree, Erin?

Kachris-Jones: Thank you.

Jones: Really. It's an unfortunate topic but it has to be discussed. It does exist.

Kachris-Jones: It does and I would look forward to the day where I could like garden or something like we would be out of that. We wouldn't need me anymore. That would be a nice thing.

Jones: That's never happened.

Kachris-Jones: But it's not going to happen.

Jones: No.

Kachris-Jones: We know that's not going to happen. We don't expect it to happen. So I guess what I would add there were a couple of things that I didn't get to say.

Jones: Please say them.

Kachris-Jones: About kind of the change and some of this next statistic is about both policy and growth. Ten years ago to give an idea of what happens in this court system, ten years ago we had an annual total of about 775 court hearings that we participated in. That's a lot, that's a big number and we were in them. Now we're projecting at the end of our year it'll be about 1,200.

Jones: Good Lord.

Kachris-Jones: A part of that is policy change that the law has said we need to hear about what's happening with children more frequently. That's the big piece.

Jones: Okay.

Kachris-Jones: We want more frequent updates on our children. That's a good thing but it's also a result of more children coming into the system. So having said that, I guess what I would hope to take away would be that the children we serve need this community and they need the volunteers who will speak up for them. It is a very powerful experience. I have a volunteer who I love her quote. She helps us train and her name is Lynn and she said, "I tell people this is the hardest job you'll ever love and you do it for free."

Jones: Excellent.

Kachris-Jones: And she means it and I think many of the volunteers who work with us mean it. They care about the children. They care about their futures. They work hard and they will I guess I'll use the word suffer because sometimes it is suffering.

Jones: Oh I can imagine.

Kachris-Jones: Suffer the frustration so that the children don't have to or so that we can make that stop. So it isn't necessarily for everyone but it is incredibly rewarding and it certainly is for me and I'm grateful. I've met some incredible people.

Jones: I'm sure you have.

Kachris-Jones: Children and adults, just incredible.

Jones: Well that's a wonderful quote, the hardest job you'll ever love. One last question for you, what's the average age of your volunteer and do you have men?

Kachris-Jones: We do. We need men. We need more men. What a call that is. Let me temper it.

Jones: I understand.

Kachris-Jones: The average age of our volunteer is 56. The average profile statewide, white, female, 56, likes to garden, likes to read. That sounds like the average volunteer for just about anything right?

Jones: A lot of things right.

Kachris-Jones: We really want to do better in our program. I really want to do better for our community. I really want to see more diversity. About 20 percent of our volunteers right now are men.

Jones: Really?

Kachris-Jones: Uh-huh. That needs to be improved. I know at least half of our population is men so I'm thinking we could do better.

Jones: Well if they're that age they're thinking raising the child is your job.

Kachris-Jones: We see more and more.

Jones: Unless he's a little league guy.

Kachris-Jones: It's interesting. We have volunteers who come from city maintenance or nuclear physicists. We have them come from, you know, homemakers to, you know, very successful entrepreneurs. There is no profile.

Jones: That's interesting.

Kachris-Jones: They care about kids. That's what brings them to us. They care about kids and they're action oriented. They want to do something that they can say, "I have done these things and I can see this outcome." They're very action--they're tenacious for sure and that's what we need.

Jones: I think so. You have to be.

Kachris-Jones: That's what we need. We need people who are willing to speak up. The other volunteer challenge that I see in our community is we have all these places you can volunteer, which is wonderful. Our program has not done a great job of recruiting in the Latino, Hispanic, and African American community and we need to do a better job of that. We need to be an organization that our community says, "I see myself there. I see my role there. I see that I fit." And so that's something that we're taking a close look at right now.

Jones: Maybe you need to go out and volunteer to speak to groups like the newcomers groups and church groups and things like that.

Kachris-Jones: You know I'll go. As you know, if you ask me I'll come.

Jones: I may call you.

Kachris-Jones: Okay, I'll come. I'm happy to do that. I think it's important for people to know what's happening to our kids in our community and I'll talk about it anytime I can.

Jones: That's terrific. You always smile. You're a happy woman doing the job that I think is incredible but not everybody can do it and stay up all the time.

Kachris-Jones: Well, you know, I'm not always up. This is an easy setting to smile in.

Jones: But you have a lot of successes and you've seen the successes.

Kachris-Jones: We have heartbreaks. We have days and sometimes weeks where it just feels like it hurts. It hurts for the children. I am not a person who cries publicly but I certainly have shed tears. Things happen. At the same time, one of the things--I have to ask volunteers these questions and they come in and so one of the things is "What are your three great strengths?" So it occurred to me well what would I say? I'm always on the asking side. One of them is I like to laugh. That's a strength for me so that I smile is an indicator that I love to laugh, a gift my mother gave us. But I also believe in humanity and so if I can marry those two I will.

Jones: Well that's wonderful. That is terrific. That is wonderful. I thank you for spending this time.

Kachris-Jones: Thank you. You've asked me really great questions so thank you.

Jones: I don't always.

Kachris-Jones: Sorry for the really long answers.

Jones: No, no, no. You gave us what we need and I think that this is a real plus.

Kachris-Jones: Thanks.

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