“Jessica” and “Helen” played quietly in a corner of the room, ignoring “Karen,” the newest adult to enter their tumultuous lives. The distrust and apprehension was apparent in their wary demeanor. So many adults came and asked questions, would there be anything different about this one? How could they tell who was going to stay in their lives? How could they tell who to trust?
Jessica and Helen, ages 5 and 9, were in foster care for the second time. Their first experience had not resulted in a safe and permanent home. The two girls were lost and scared. They had no one to speak for them, for what was in their best interest, until their CASA, Karen, was appointed by the court.
When Karen first started to visit Jessica and Helen they seemed to have no interest in her; not speaking or acknowledging her presence. Karen knew that she had to build their trust. Adults entered and left the girls’ lives constantly. Karen wanted to be one that they could count on.
It took these sessions of silence to build trust between them, and as time passed the two girls started to look forward to her visits. Karen was always true to her word, and advocated for the best interest of Helen and Jessica. Karen was present throughout the girls’ three years in foster care. They had multiple caseworkers and moved foster homes multiple times. Karen was the only constant adult present for Jessica and Helen. She was their only source of consistency.
Helen and Jessica’s biological mother was making minimal progress on getting her girls back. She very easily fell back into old habits and old routines. She did not make use of the social supports offered and mandated by the courts. Jessica and Helen’s mother was unable to provide a safe, secure, and permanent home for her girls, so Karen began to advocate for adoption.
Helen and Jessica seemed ambivalent toward their adoption. They were separated from their biological family, and a third sibling, not an easy step for any child. It takes time to settle into a new family. Karen described their ending as bittersweet. Jessica and Helen found safety and permanency, the ultimate goal for any CASA child. But, the decision to terminate parental rights also means a child’s right to their parent is terminated. Karen saw this as the right step, but not an easy one.
The transition out of foster care can be difficult for children. For years people had been coming to check on the girls. After adoption, caseworkers, CASAs, and other professionals do not come around to check any more. This can feel bewildering for a child. Helen and Jessica expressed concern that Karen wouldn't come to see them anymore. The adoptive parents agreed to continuing monthly visits with Karen so that the girls could stay in touch. Karen has been able to keep visiting, and help them with the transition out of foster care.
Karen described the transition as hard work. Everyone involved, including the girls, worked so hard to adjust and be as happy as they could be.
Karen expressed how rewarding child advocacy was for her. She says, “Ultimately, it’s a surprise when you see that you do have an effect on a child’s life. You never know what that effect might be when you first start, and the effect changes over time. But it is most meaningful when you hear about the effect you've had directly from the child.”