“Now, it was all about recovery and stepping forward.” Insight from a former youth in foster care about the importance of CASA.

by | Apr 19, 2023 | CASA Blog

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Note from the editor, Emily Gaudreau: I had the great privilege to meet a former foster youth who had a volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocate on her case in Yellowstone County. It was truly an honor to hear the stories of this young woman who has overcome so much adversity in her lifetime. I want to note that this story is completely true. For the privacy and safety of Jess and her siblings, we have changed their names and certain identifying information. I want to thank Jess profusely for trusting me with her story and for her willingness to share about her experiences having a volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocate on her case.  

“It happened so quickly,” Jess said as she remembers the day her siblings and her entered foster care. “One minute we were home with my mom and stepdad, and hours later, we were in foster care.” What Jess found out later was her parents had been under investigation for drug distribution for some time before police came to their house. It all culminated when her stepfather and mom got into an altercation in their backyard. Her stepfather was high on drugs and had a gun as he fought with her mom in the yard.

 Jess remembers going to hide in the garage with her brothers and sisters as police thronged in to arrest her stepdad and mom. Jess learned a lot of this later in life when she turned eighteen and read the case files. Her parents had been under investigation for drug distribution, illegal weapons, partner family member assault, and child abuse for months before they were arrested. As a child, Jess remembers moving around a lot with her parents, sometimes every few months, which made it hard for law enforcement and Child Protective Services to keep track of them. Throughout her childhood, Jess and her siblings lived in a wide range of houses from their family car, low income homes all the way up to nice homes in affluent neighborhoods. 

Jess was fifteen years old when she was removed from her parents’ care along with four younger siblings: two brothers and two sisters. Being the oldest, Jess remembers being left alone as the sole caretaker of the four other kids for days or even weeks at a time. She said they were all pretty self-reliant by the time they entered foster care.

Unfortunately, because of the large sibling group, the kids were not able to be placed together right away as they came into foster care. Jess and her teen siblings, Cane and Helen went to go stay with a family friend. Her twin brother and sister, Josh and Rylee, were placed with an available foster family while Child and Family Services tried to decide what to do next with the kids. Due to the complicated nature of the case, it was placed on the CASA priority list right away to receive a volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocate. Fortunately, the same day the case was put on the priority list, Anna, a CASA Advocate was in the office planning to pick a new case after the closure of her first case. The family’s situation spoke to Anna, and she stepped up to take the case with all five kids.

Several days later, Anna was officially appointed to the case by a judge and went to visit Jess at school with her case worker. Jess said, “I was already at an age where I understood what would happen if I told the truth, and I did exactly that. My CASA had made it very clear that she was there for me and my siblings and that’s all that mattered to me. I had never talked to anyone about what was happening at home and trust did not come easy to me. Lies and manipulation were my best friends because that’s how we were taught to survive. I don’t know why but I quickly saw an out to mine and my sibling’s life. I understand that everything that had happened to us was not normal, okay, or fair.”

Jess, Cane, and Helen were eventually able to move in with their aunt. Anna continued to visit with them regularly and got to know all the kids. She played an important role in helping to keep all five of the kids connected while they were placed in separate homes and advocated for the individual needs of the kids in the courtroom and community. Jess became a powerful voice for her and her siblings as well, advocating for them to be all placed together and stressing the importance of keeping all the siblings in one home. Finally, after many months of hard work, the twins, Josh and Rylee, were able to be placed with their aunt and older siblings. In her interview, Jess said it was hard at times to help care for all her siblings but having them all together as a family was one of the most important things to her. The bond between Jess and her siblings was very clear in this interview.

Anna was on the case for a little over a year with the kids. She was a consistent presence for them as they went through the ups and downs of foster care. Jess said this about her CASA: “having that security and reassurance that she was on my side, and she understood what I was going through helped beyond any words I could describe. She met with us all individually and together and was able to connect with us all. She was a big support to my aunt as she transitioned to taking care of five kids at once who were coming from a background of trauma.”

The goal for each volunteer Advocate is to finish the case out with the kids so they don’t have more change and turnover in their lives while they are in foster care. Unfortunately, due to unforeseen personal circumstances, Anna was not able to close the case out officially with this family and she did step down from the case. When she said goodbye to the kids, they were in a much better place than they had been, and they were headed towards permanency in the form of guardianship with their aunt. Jess said it was hard to say goodbye to her CASA, “she reminded us of what an accomplishment it is, that we are safe, and we are okay. Being okay may not mean a lot to some, but to us it meant the world. We were safe and we knew where our next meal was. It meant no more abuse, no more strangers in and out of our lives, no more hiding or lying. Now, it was all about recovery and stepping forward.”

One thing that was clear in interviewing Jess was her resiliency and determination to overcome the circumstances of her early years. She spoke about how important school was for her and how it became a haven for her throughout the chaos and constant change in her childhood. Jess and her siblings are doing well. Jess is now twenty years old. She works full-time in a public service role, helping other people find services and safety when they need it most. Helen and Cane are out on their own as adults now, as well.  After sitting down for this interview, Jess said she was going to take her now ten-year-old twin siblings, Josh and Rylee, to the zoo. She sees the twins and her aunt often. In the near future, Jess said she would like to be a CASA Advocate herself and serve children in foster care.

When asked what she would say to youth going through similar circumstances in foster care, Jess said, “If there was anything I would like to say to youth, it would be to not give up. Life can be really rough no matter what age you are, but you can make change and get out of that life. You can make a difference and take control of your future!” 

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Court Appointed Special Advocates are community volunteers who speak up for the best interests of children in foster care. Volunteer CASAs work for the best interests of kids by advocating for their safety and permanency.

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