Jenni was 13 years old and living in a residential treatment center with other teens when she met her Court Appointed Special Advocate, Amanda, for the first time. During weekly visits both on and off campus, Jenni barely spoke to Amanda. Sometimes the two of them would sit inside Wendy’s over a Frosty in silence.
I don’t often receive correspondence directly from judges, but on May 2, 2023 at 10:55 pm, a family court judge emailed with the subject line “Help!” The message opened with, “Can I get a CASA for another case, please?!!” Clearly, this judge was concerned about the children, a sibling group of six.
The next morning, CASA staff dug into the case and learned more about each child: four boys and two girls ranging in age from three to 12. They were living with their mother and her boyfriend, and their father visited occasionally. Child Protective Services got involved due to an allegation of sexual abuse.
An investigation uncovered stories of extensive, ongoing sexual abuse by the mother’s boyfriend. The foster care caseworker explored the family’s situation and learned that the mother struggled with addiction, which kept her connecter to her boyfriend. The judge ordered that the children be removed from their home for their own safety.
Unfortunately, the children couldn’t be placed with their father. While he was a safe and loving parent, he was not able to care for them. As a result, the children went to live with their paternal aunt. As you can imagine, caring for six traumatized children wasn’t easy. Trauma survivors struggle with self-regulation and have limited coping skills; as a result, they often act out aggressively. The judge recognized they were “a handful,” and their aunt wasn’t sure how much longer she could manage. The potential loss of this kinship placement is what prompted the judge’s emphatic request to CASA. She wanted the children and their aunt to “have someone else in their corner.”
For a CASA volunteer, a case like this is daunting. The sheer number of siblings and the severity of their trauma would be overwhelming to most volunteers. CASA staff decided to approach this case by finding two CASAs who would work together to support this family.
Thankfully, at the end of July, two veteran co-CASAs were ready for a new case. They reviewed the information and said yes immediately. Since being appointed by the judge, the volunteers have met with the caseworker, observed the children’s interaction with their father, and visited the three foster homes the children moved into after leaving their aunt’s. They learned about what the children enjoy: swimming in the lake, riding bikes, cheerleading, gardening, board games, and toys. They also heard what the children want: to be together and stay in their current schools.
Now the advocacy begins. The two CASAs can voice the siblings’ wishes in court.
Thank YOU for your partnership with CASA.
This article is part of the Fall 2023 edition of CASA Connect, CASA of Kent County’s quarterly newsletter. Click here to view a pdf version of this newsletter.
Sometimes, CASA volunteers work together in pairs – especially for larger sibling groups like the Williams children, where there is a significant amount of information to gather. CASAs April and Eliza are currently advocating for the group of five siblings. With so many children to visit and observe, it is helpful to split the responsibilities between two advocates.
Miguel was removed from his home because he was suffering from severe depression and was not receiving proper care. When he was assigned his CASA, Janelle, things started to look up. Janelle became a symbol of hope for Miguel while he was healing.
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