CASAs and teachers and mentors to the rescue..can you really survive foster care without them?
People ask me how I survived foster care, considering I never had a true stable placement and had a lot of bad shit happen along the way. Honestly, what made the difference in my life were some mentors who I had at different times. Yes, people who had no rhyme or reason to be in my life except that they were interested or wanted to really help. If you look at the structure of the foster care system, foster parents have a job to do, workers have a job to do, GALs have a job to do….but mentors are outside the system and don’t have “required jobs”…mentors are there for what the child needs.
Studies have shown that one of the main differences as to why foster children make it is because of the influence of a mentor. Yes, a mentor. I had three that I truly feel impacted my life— 1 teacher and 2 CASA volunteers—- and perhaps if I had stayed in any placement for any substantial length of time, they would have impacted my life more. Even for the short time I knew them, they made their marks…..
Let me start with the teacher, since we all know what teachers are. I sucked at school and I was a problem student. Most teachers threw me away, knowing I was the “foster kid” or the “trouble maker.” However, not Mrs. W. From the minute me and my attitude entered her class, she never gave up on me. Mrs W. was a no-nonsense lady, but she was also kind and understanding. She was the first person EVER to tell me I could learn and that I was smart…oh yeah, this was in 8th grade by the way. While I gave her a run for her money, she gave me more and more attention. She would tell me “LT use your creativity, not your anger or pain.” I didn’t know what she meant then, but I do now. She would bring me cookies and little treats like holiday pencils and she would ask about my life, all the while helping me practice reading after-school or teaching me to write to get my feelings out. I was too scared to tell her, but deep down inside I wanted her to be my mom. She did not laugh when I asked her to read to me, nor did she shy away from pushing me to read to her. I think I learned to appreciate the power of books because of her. But, guess what happened? Think foster care here? — I WAS MOVED and Mrs. W was gone out of my life.
I’ve written several times about teachers ignoring foster children and not caring if they perform in school. It happens ALL THE TIME. So, if you are a teacher and you are reading this, please don’t think that foster kids can’t or won’t succeed. You have the power to make that happen. Mrs. W if you are reading this, I can read because of you..albeit slow, but because of you. I can write because of you. … because you cared to mentor and help me along the way.
You might be wondering “what is a CASA?” I wondered that too when I was got my first one. A CASA is a person who VOLUNTEERS their time and energy to help a child in foster care. It is a volunteer position for which people are appointed by the family courts to help kids.
And they are 100% of the side of the foster child.
Why is this so important?? As a kid in foster care, we have all these people in our lives; foster parents, workers, lawyers, judges, bioparents, house parents, therapists, etc, etc….but none are 100% truly representing us.
The CASA is!
I want to direct your attention to the blog of a CASA volunteer, who could probably explain things alot better than me. CASAgal’s blog — The life and times of a Court Appointed Special Advocate (http://casagal.wordpress.com/what-is-a-casa/) is filled with information about being a CASA. But more importantly, why I like this blog is that it shows that CASA JENN, a “normal, everyday person,” can do the job of helping kids in foster care who really need a mentor. She is not a worker, not a lawyer, not a therapist….she is a lady who wants to help a child in need. I laughed when Jenn wrote in her blog entitled “Word Salad” (http://casagal.wordpress.com/2009/09/29/word-salad/)
“I typically say that I agree or disagree with the State and why. Sometimes, however, I get tongue tied. You see, I’m not a lawyer, and I don’t want to sound like a lawyer. I want to sound like what I am: a volunteer from the community that is watching out for a child’s best interest.”
you see, …a normal person trying to help and make a difference. And honestly, we foster kids, need someone who is normal and looking out for our best interests and not “connected with the system?” We need you! There are not enough volunteers and you could change a life.
I only had 2 CASAs. Honestly, it is not the fault of CASA, but a fault of the system and the location of where I lived. In the county I grew up, less than 6% of children have a CASA. Terrible, because it is also a county of extreme poverty and extremely high numbers of kids in care because of abuse. The kids need CASAs, there is just not enough…
So, my first CASA, her name was Megan. I had never met a “Megan” before. You know what CASA Megan did? She got me out of a home that was hurting me. NO one else listened to me when I was at this placement. NO-one. And I gave up trying as most abused children do, and then we succumb to whatever occurs and blame ourselves.
CASA Megan was really assigned to me because I had been moved 4 times within less than one year. So, when I met her I was aware that my opportunities were quickly deflating. She was nice, but I found it hard to relate. What did she owe me? What did she care? Just another “goody too-shoes” trying to stop me from being bad. I know, right?
Just another person “from the system” in my life…or so I thought.
Anyway, she kept coming and she told me over and over that she was there for me and did not work for the system…she worked for me. You see in the state I was in care, CASA’s meet with the child at least weekly and at different places, sometimes school, sometimes home, sometimes out for fun, etc. They have been referred to as “Big Brothers/Big Sisters With Teeth.” She also met with my teachers and she also met with the asshole foster parents. She made notes. She watched interactions. She talked to me. She kept coming….
And she kept coming….she seemed to become the only stable thing in my life, whether I liked it or not. And honestly, with my attitude in the beginning, I didn’t like it. But over time, I started to like it and really look forward to it…and she kept coming….
….and eventually I started talking. I told her about school and how hard it was for me. She worked to get me extra help and I got some extra time with a reading teacher. I told her about how lonely I was. She tried to get the asshole foster parents to take me to counseling. I told her I did not understand everything that was happening to me all the time. She tried to explain and said she would talk to the workers. She was trying.
..Megan called one Saturday and I told her not to come. She was supposed to take me to go bowling because I got a “B” on a test, but I told her I had too much homework. Megan knew me too well at that point (homework was not a priority) and she came anyway. I was home alone because the asshole foster parents had gone out somewhere. I answered the door and CASA Megan was standing there. Before I could say “hey,” she had called my worker….honestly, she must of had a secret number, because I could never get hold of the worker, but she sure did.
I said I fell down the stairs when I tripped over something. She said “Don’t lie LT” I said, “why NO-one else listened,”… she said “I listen.” And she did. I was moved the same day to what turned out to be a better placement.
As you see, CASA Megan not only looked out for my interests in terms of what I needed in school and life, she looked out for what I needed in terms of a safe placement. I later asked her why she came that Saturday when I told her not to. She said she came because she knew I was looking forward to going out to celebrate my “B” and that it wasn’t like me anymore to tell her not to come. She was not concerned that it was dangerous because #1 I had told her I was alone and #2 she knew I was in more danger than she would be. I guess I still don’t understand that, maybe she was carrying a smith and wesson, maybe because she knew child abusers are cowards…I don’t know, I was scared but she didn’t seem so.
I wish I had stayed in the county because I might have continued seeing Megan. But I never forgot her.
There were not enough CASAs or mentors in my life and even now I wish I had one….. because I need someone to guide me, listen to me, and help me keep trying and figure things out.. And the kids I met on the streets, there weren’t enough in their lives either…some never had any CASAs or mentors.
Please consider being a CASA or mentoring a foster kid in some way. We don’t have anyone that is truly on our side….Where I live now, only the most “severe” cases get a CASA, because there are not enough.
ISN’T EVERY CASE OF A CHILD IN FOSTER CARE “SEVERE?”
One CASA here told me that she still sees her first CASA case who is now in college. They have lunch together frequently and the woman is still mentoring her. See? It may seem that you are not reaching the kids and it takes time…god, most everyone in our lives has hurt us, …but in the end, a good mentor, can save us!
Entry filed under: Foster Care. Tags: CASA, child abuse, Court Appointed Special Advocate, Foster Care, foster care abuse, foster children, foster kids, GAL, guardian ad litem, help foster kids, mentor, teachers, volunteer to help foster children.