Rita had not yet reached her teenage years when her father overdosed in front of her. While he survived, child protective services removed Rita from his care and placed her with her aunt and uncle in Billings. Rita’s mother was halfway across the county, serving time in prison. Not long after Rita had been living with her aunt and uncle, they informed Rita’s social worker that they didn’t have the resources to continue caring for her. Rita was then moved to a group home out of state. It was around this time that the judge overseeing Rita’s case assigned a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) to visit Rita regularly and speak up for her best interests.
While Court Appointed Special Advocates can receive exceptions to regular visits if the child is placed far away, Rita’s CASA insisted on making the hours-long drive to the facility to see her. These visits continued for months, until Rita’s Medicaid funding was discontinued, and she was sent back to the group home in Billings. It was while living at the group home that Rita learned her father had passed away from his drug addiction. Over the next two years, Rita would be moved from the group home to a foster home, then to another foster home, then back with her aunt and uncle, then again to a different foster home, with each move triggered by its own set of circumstances. During this time of transition, turmoil, and personal tragedy, Rita’s CASA was her constant.
As is the unfortunate reality for many children in foster care, especially teenagers, a large portion of Rita’s possessions were gradually left behind each time she moved to a new placement. Rita’s CASA put in an extraordinary amount of effort to find these items at the former foster homes. She also arranged to go through the storage units owned by the state, containing years’ worth of lost items belonging to children in foster care, digging through bags and boxes until she was able to locate specific items that Rita had lost in her moves.
Rita was placed back in a residential treatment facility when Montana announced its first case of COVID-19. With normal recreational activities suspended and all off-campus field trips canceled, many of the youth at the facility began receiving parcels from their parents with books and games to keep them occupied. With minimal family support in her life, Rita did not expect to receive anything in the mail. She was soon surprised and thrilled when the staff handed her a care package from her CASA. With no visitors allowed on the facility’s campus, Rita’s CASA had to discontinue her regular visits, a commitment she had maintained consistently for three years. In lieu of visits, the CASA began calling her several times each week, checking in on her needs, and giving Rita a comforting voice – and ear – during scary times.
Even during the uncertainty of COVID-19, the CASA worked hard to find family connection and potential permanent options for Rita. Until she achieves permanency, the CASA will continue to be a steady relationship and voice for her.