Stories

Read about some of the absolutely true stories demonstrating the life-changing difference our Court Appointed Special Advocates are making here in Yellowstone County.

A Story of Three Sisters

Avery, Mia, and Zoey had been living with their mother and her boyfriend in a Billings motel for several months. Every night, in order to keep warm, the girls slept together on the floor between the room’s only bed and the radiator. One day, Avery – the oldest of the sisters – went to school with a bruised face, and her teacher called child protective services. A social worker visited the motel room, and saw the squalid conditions the children lived in, which included dog feces all over the carpet. The youngest child appeared to not have been bathed or provided a clean diaper in days. A background check revealed that the mother’s boyfriend was a registered sex offender.

The children were removed for their own safety and placed in a foster home together. The two younger children, Mia and Zoey, both under the ages of 4, had speech delays, and soon began to show difficult behaviors in the home as well. These included hoarding food in their rooms, digging through the trash for food despite plenty in the fridge, and becoming violent toward one another, occasionally causing real harm. In time, it also became clear that one or more of the girls had likely been perpetrated on by the mother’s boyfriend when they lived at the motel.

The combination of these issues and other factors led to Avery, Mia, and Zoey being split up into three different foster homes. The judge overseeing the girls’ case appointed them a volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA), whose responsibilities would include visiting the children on a regular basis and writing reports to the judge on the girls’ status and needs. The CASA knew it would be difficult building rapport with them given their trauma, compounded by their separation to different foster homes and on top of the younger girls’ speech delays. The foster parents, teachers, and daycare providers soon began communicating messages to the CASA to relay to the judge and the social worker. The sisters each began to notice as well that their CASA would not just be another adult to come and go in their lives, but instead was there for the long haul.

One of the most impactful contributions the CASA had to the case was helping to coordinate visits between the sisters. Having established a working relationship with each of the three sets of foster parents, she was able to mediate communication between all the adults, eventually getting them in regular contact with one another so that they could facilitate carpooling to sleepovers – allowing the girls to see their sisters every weekend. The CASA’s dedication to the case left an impression on the judge, who took special interest in the case and began scheduling court hearings at a regular frequency to receive updates. The judge would personally ask the CASA what help and services Avery, Mia, and Zoey all needed, and turned many of the CASA’s recommendations into action, including getting the girls set up with counseling.

The girls’ mother eventually relinquished her legal rights to the children. While this kind of occasion is never one to celebrate, each of the foster families stepped up and expressed that given the absence of any other stable family members for Avery, Mia, and Zoey to go to, the girls would each have a forever home with them. As the sisters’ cases now moves toward adoption, they continue to have their Court Appointed Special Advocate by their side – the one constant who will be there until the very end.

Ray and Marnie's Story

Three-year-old Ray and his infant sister Marnie entered foster care after reports that their mother and grandmother were using and selling drugs out of the home. Social workers also realized that Marnie was underweight and had a slew of unmet medical needs.

A local judge assigned a Court Appointed Special Advocate to Ray and Marnie’s case. The children’s CASA became immediately effective at connecting with Marnie’s doctors and facilitating information between all the other professionals involved in the children’s lives: pre-school teachers, occupational therapists, speech therapists, attorneys, the foster parents, and the social worker. Ray and Marnie’s mother, who struggled with her own disabilities, began demonstrating early in the case that she was ready to make the changes in her life and do whatever it would take to get her kids back. Wanting to encourage this progress, the CASA made sure to keep mom involved and in the loop as much as possible.

For her efforts in advocating for the children’s needs, pushing the ball forward, and getting services set up, the CASA received public praise from the county attorney. There is now real hope that Ray and Marnie can be reunited with their mother, something the children had always asked for.

Leif’s Story

At age 6, Leif told his teachers about his mom and dad using needles to give themselves medicine that makes them mean. When this was reported to child protective services, an investigation found that the parents were using methamphetamine in the home and not meeting Leif’s basic needs. Leif revealed that he had witnessed criminal behavior on a number of occasions, including burglary.

Social workers removed Leif and placed him in foster care, and the judge assigned a Court Appointed Special Advocate to represent Leif’s best interests in the court. Over the next year, Leif’s CASA visited him at the foster home and school so they could develop trust and rapport. He even began calling his CASA “the safe lady.” Leif would specifically want his CASA to be there whenever he met a new professional, so she could vouch that the new person was a safe lady too.

While every CASA is present at court hearings and speaks to the judge, Leif’s CASA was called to testify under oath about Leif’s needs and his desires were for the future. After Leif had spent more than a year in foster care, his parents discontinued their court-ordered services and relinquished their parental rights. Thankfully, rather than going back to square one, Leif’s foster parents informed the court that they would like to adopt him. After the most recent court hearing, the judge called the CASA to the bench and told her how important her input has been throughout the case, saying it was her information that he often relies on most.

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