Advocate’s Corner by Lee Harrison

 

 

Picture it.  I am in a surgical office last week with my 16 year old CASA kid.  The sequence of events is: remove 4 wisdom teeth, get braces back on in July, get jaw broken upper and lower in 4 months to fix it.  Sounds easy until you spend 3 million hours with Doctors and Medicaid to get it approved.  But here we go…step one.  She acts like she is going in for a manicure.  I am unglued.  I go into the room after she gets her gown on.  The nurse asks if she had any previous operations.  “Just child birth” she says (at age 14).  The nurse tells her she is about to stick the needle in her hand for the IV.  My heart is pounding.  As the needle goes in, I feel it.  My eyes fill with tears.  I think, “Get a grip, get a grip, get a grip.”  About 30 seconds later she looks over at me and says, “Are you tearing up??”  I say, “No, don’t be silly.”  She says, “Yes you are!  You are tearing up!  What’s wrong??”  I say, “I just don’t want you to feel any more pain…ever.”  She says, “But it doesn’t hurt!  Look!” as she waves her hand.  Then she becomes the adult and says, “You and me gotta have a talk when we get outta here!” 
After the surgery she bounces out like nothing happened; we return to the group home for teen moms and we watch movies all afternoon.  I was exhausted and slept forever.  She stayed up until 4:30 am scrapbooking. 
 I asked her if she planned to put her wisdom teeth under her pillow for the Tooth Fairy.  I wondered if she’d put all 4 or just one. She replied, “I don’t believe in the Tooth Fairy.”  I said, “Don’t be silly….everyone believes in the Tooth Fairy.”  She said, “When I was growing up, I always put a tooth under my pillow.  In the morning the tooth would be gone….and there was nothing under the pillow.”  This kid was raped, sexually assaulted, gotten pregnant, called the police when her Mom was being beaten, and has been in Foster Care for 2 years.  And now this.  No Tooth Fairy. Seriously?
But now for the punch line.  She added, “But my baby will have a Tooth Fairy.”  There it is in a nut shell.  This is what CASA is all about.  It’s about being around to make things go a little smoother in a life most of us can’t even imagine.  It’s making kids believe that there is a better life for them and their own children.  They can break the cycle.  They can change the hand they have been dealt.  They can make a difference in the course of their own life.  They have the power to re-write the end of their story.
We talked about her future plans, with graduating for the first time in her family, with going to college, with future careers.  I told her she could even become President.  She rolled her eyes.  I said, “And when you do, just so you know now…I get my own room at the White House.”  She said I was nuts.  But then about 10 minutes later she said, “If I did become President…we could have an entire room….filled with shoes.”  I laughed out loud.  It was pretty funny.  But the point is, it made her think it was possible.  Even if she only thought that for a minute…it’s a minute of possibility.  That’s what CASA’s do.  Give hope.  Esperanza.

 

By: Helga Graham

1 Helga Graham

Helga Graham
CASA Volunteer Advocate

Oh yes, being a CASA Volunteer is so different from all the other volunteering I’ve done.  Just like with other volunteer activities, I jumped right in, excited and willing to change the world of abused and neglected children. But by the third or fourth session of the eight session training that we had back in those days, I was scared to death and had doubts that I could ever keep my cool when dealing with abusive parents; that I could ever understand the law, the regulations, the do’s and don’ts; that I could ever really make a difference in the life of an abused and neglected child.

As is often true with a “first”, my first case is still my first love – not only because my involvement with that child continued right alongside my work on the next and following cases, but also because that case brought out qualities in me that I didn’t know I had.

That first case involved real detective work: searching for Mom, searching for Dad while the child was in an emergency shelter; leaving messages at favorite eating places for Mom; spending hours on Mom’s doorstep, until she came home; and having endless discussions with Mom about Life and the Universe.  That Mom was different.

But I had a wonderful experience with the child, and with the foster parents.  The foster parents were totally informed about the role of a CASA, and we worked as a team from the beginning.  I attended all of the school functions, ball practices, birthday parties, and even a Super Bowl Party given by the foster parents.  I had so many good times with that child – outings to local points of interest, trips to the pizza parlor, playground activities (including tossing a football), singing silly songs in the car, and looking over homework.

But there was also holding on to him, when bad memories came over him.  There were some tough moments.  I cried sometimes, worried if the child could stay safe and loved.  But I was always assured by my CASA Supervisor and the CPS Caseworker that everything possible would be done to achieve whatever was in the child’s best interest.  And then he began to shed the problems from his past – slowly, but with great “hurrah” praises by all involved in his life.

Eventually there was a trial for termination of parental rights, and that was one of the scariest chapters of my life – I admit there were sleepless nights, and I said to myself “You could be a crossing guard at a local elementary school, why did you become a CASA Volunteer, and put yourself through this?”  Well, as scary as that trial was, looking in my CASA child’s eyes (without even thinking about the huge file that contained all of the paperwork connected with his case) – I knew that I had to fight for that kid and his future.  And then I was not afraid anymore of the jury, the judge, the attorneys, and all of the expert witnesses.

That child on my first CASA case has now been adopted by those wonderful foster parents, he is doing great in school and sports, and it is a true joy to be able to look back on that case as a real success story for all of us – CASA, CPS, and the entire System.

I have had other cases, some children were adopted, some were reunited with their parents.  I feel that I made a difference in most of those cases.  Even though there may have been additional removals in one or two instances, I believe that I still made a positive difference – at least for a time.

When I moved to another state, thousands of miles away, I could not imagine NOT becoming a CASA once again.  And so I became a CASA in my new home state of Washington – huge case, huge file (17 volumes at CPS), nobody at the CASA Office wanted that case – people thought I was crazy to take that case; but it involved kids needing someone to care………… what’s crazy about that ????

Two years ago – five years after leaving South Texas, we returned……….and started right in with the local  CASA Program again.  We (my husband, Richard, and I) are on our fifth case since returning.  The kids still need someone to care, and we still care.

 

 

Advocate’s Corner by Kathy Thornberry

By: Kathy Thornberry
CASA Advocate since Feb 1999
8 closed cases – 14 children
1 open case – 4 children
2005 Volunteer of the Year

When asked whether I would “like” to write the Advocate’s Corner for this month, my biggest challenge was narrowing down what to write about after 13 ½ years as an advocate.  I remember when I told my physician that I was leaving my high-stress job and going back into the volunteer community as a CASA.  His words to me were, “You sure must enjoy beating your head against a brick wall”.  I was somewhat stunned….. but, yes, I guess I do enjoy beating my head against a brick wall, because that is what it feels like sometimes in trying to achieve a better life for the children we serve.  BUT, boy, is it well worth it!  Learning about what our CASA children have endured before coming into care and then helping them through the long arduous journey through the system and into permanency has been the most fulfilling thing I have done outside of my own family.   

After all of these years I am still appalled to see the amount of child abuse and neglect that occurs.  I live in Houston now where it seems that each day there is a story on the news about something horrible that has been done to a child in our area. I shudder to think how many more children are out there who don’t make the news, because their abuse hasn’t been discovered. How long will it take until help comes for them, or how extreme will it get before the authorities can get involved? 

When I think about what being a CASA advocate means to me, it brings tears and smiles.  In one particular case, the tears came over the starvation death of a two month old baby at the hands of his parents and the trauma and abuse inflicted on his two surviving sisters.  The smiles over helping those sisters jump the difficult hurdles thrown their way while they were in care.  The tears and anguish over being torn between being at my dying father’s bed one last time or at the termination trial for those little girls.  And finally, the smiles over seeing those little girls get the most perfect life that I could possibly wish for them and my father looking down smiling, because I was with those little girls who still had their lives ahead of them as his rich and full life ended. 

 I am going to end with some advice to all of you….  We are now being referred to as “SUPERHEROES” for what we do.  We are told how incredible we are for the often heroic accomplishments we achieve on behalf of our CASA children.  BE CAREFUL!   We work with very difficult situations and sometimes, extremely ugly ones.  Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed or emotionally stressed over what you are dealing with in your cases.  We so much want what is best for our CASA children, and the road can be very rough.  The expectations we place on ourselves can be extremely high.  Reach out to your supervisor and use the opportunities given to you to “share” your case problems and stressors.  We take our work very seriously and with the impact on children’s lives, it can be very daunting at times.  TAKE CARE OF YOURSELVES!  There are a lot of children out there who desperately need YOU.

 Kathy’s proud Supervisor is Sandra Strub