By: Cheryl Reed
When I first met John he was 12 years old and had just entered foster care. He and his four siblings had been homeless. He and his twin took turns taking care of the two youngest so that each could go to school every other day.
While in state care, John was moved 15 times in two years. A child used to no rules was forced into strange houses, three hospitals, emergency care facilities and residential treatment centers in five different cities.
John watched as his siblings found permanent homes: An aunt took custody of his older brother and twin sister, but not him. His little sister and brother were adopted. But not John. A foster home where he and his younger siblings were placed kept his siblings but told CPS to pick John up. Relatives promised to visit but didn’t. A foster dad kept him two days and returned him….
John carried my crumpled CASA business card in his back pocket. When I visited him, he would retrieve it and proudly tell me, “I still have your card.” I was the only continuity in his life as I consistently and adamantly advocated for him.
While I struggled to find permanency for John, he deteriorated, growing angry, combative and aggressive. He broke his own arm hitting a wall. He was put on five medications. He saw bugs in his food and heard voices. He refused to eat.
After exhausting possibility after possibility for permanency, John finally got the home he deserved. Rafaela, his great aunt, wanted to be his mother. Single, working full time, she already had three children. But John needed her and that was enough. John was taken off all medications save one, and his once slim frame bloomed with a healthy 30 pound gain. Rafaela says that to this day she has never been called to the school concerning any aggressive behavior.
It has been almost four years since the close of this case and just last week I saw John and he told me a secret. He has a special box where he keeps his most treasured things. In it is a crumpled CASA business card. The same one that I gave him six years ago….
In 1977, a Seattle juvenile court judge concerned about making drastic decisions with insufficient information conceived the idea of citizen volunteers speaking up for the best interests of abused and neglected children in the courtroom. From that first program has grown a network of nearly 1,000 CASA and guardian ad litem programs that are recruiting, training and supporting volunteers in 49 states and the District of Columbia.
in 1991, CASA of Nueces County was established. Ten years later, CASA expanded to cover Aransas and San Patricio counties to become CASA of the Coastal Bend. There are currently have 82 volunteers that serve 193 children in care. Our vision is a community where every child has a voice in court through a CASA volunteer.
For children in foster care, the ability to form lasting connections with other people is often a challenge. Children who have been neglected and/or abused undergo profound stress that affects their developing view of the world. For the children served by CASA volunteers, the world may represent nothing but chaos and danger, such that they must remain always on guard and ready to respond to threat. Although such hypervigilance and preparedness for battle enabled survival when needed, it tends to become a hindrance in environments where threat is only perceived and acts as a barrier to connecting with others. For any adult to parent any child, the child must trust that adult to be able to protect and take control when necessary. The child who has not been nurtured learns to survive on his/her own and often believes that adults exist just to make survival more difficult.
The nature of the foster care system often reinforces that the world contains nothing but threat and that everyone must fight to survive from one minute to the next. Regardless of the conditions children are removed from, they typically enter foster care with fear and are primed to react accordingly. Thus, every new face encountered poses risk and every adult is plotting some form of harm. For everyone involved with that chronically terrified child, there is the task of building trust. For the foster child whose placement is changing frequently, there are few consistent people in whom to develop trust.
Learning to trust others is fundamental to survival in our society. The CASA volunteer frequently becomes the most consistent person in that child’s life and thus, the person able to foster trust.
CASA of the Coastal Bend
Advocating for Children in Nueces, Aransas and San Patricio Counties
Copyright 2016 CASA of the Coastal Bend. All Rights Reserved.