EVERETT — Hannah Patterson spent her whole career helping kids as a special education teacher and a school administrator.
Now, she’s helping them in retirement, too, volunteering as a court-appointed special advocate. In the past five years, she’s helped over 40 foster children navigate the court process, giving them a voice when no one else is there to speak for them.
Volunteer advocates are sworn officers of the court who attend hearings, hold case-related meetings, gather information and make objective recommendations to the judge.
“I feel like I never retired,” said Patterson, who lives in Bothell. “I just found a new passion.”
Earlier in April, Patterson was named volunteer of the year among all advocates in the state. She’s the first from Snohomish County’s 40-year-old program to be given the honor.
Due to the sensitive nature of the work, Patterson couldn’t talk about specific cases. But program coordinators said she maintains a calm demeanor in contentious situations, and has navigated some of the most challenging cases that have come through the program in recent years.
“Ms. Patterson doesn’t focus on what isn’t working,” according to a statement from Washington State CASA, a statewide organization representing special advocates. “Instead she digs in and finds a solution. Ms. Patterson has earned the trust of parents, caregivers, providers, attorneys and social workers based largely on her integrity, transparency and follow through.”
The work requires a tricky balance. Advocates are appointed to represent the best interests of the children, Snohomish County program manager Ida Keeley said, but that doesn’t always align with what they want for themselves.
For example, a child may want to move back in with his or her parents, but an advocate might decide that adoption could be a better route.
Sometimes the advocates will work outside of the courtroom, too. Patterson has used her experience to work with schools to create better situations for children.
In a recommendation letter, Seattle Children’s Hospital gave high praise to Patterson.
“When other systems have repeatedly failed our mutual patient, we have been fortunate to count on Ms. Patterson to have unwavering dedication to the patient’s basic needs and well-being,” hospital officials wrote.
Keeley said she hopes more people like Patterson consider joining the CASA program. There’s a big need for volunteers, she said. The program’s 75 advocates represent just 20 percent of children who need their services, she estimated.
The demand will only increase, Keeley said. More children are being placed into foster care, as more parents struggle with issues like opioid addiction.
Those interested in volunteering can find more information at https://www.snohomishcountywa.gov/881/CASA-Program.