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

Ela & Amara's Story

Child Protective Services received multiple reports that Ela was not being fed regularly and that she consistently showed up to school in filthy clothes and poor hygiene. When her mother was arrested for outstanding warrants, 15-year-old Ela was placed into the foster care system in Billings. The social worker on her case placed her in the care of her older sister who could provide a safe place for Ela. Not long after Ela entered foster care, she ran away from her sister’s home, and despite best efforts, Child Protective Services was unable to locate her.

Fast forward to the next year when reports were made concerning domestic violence between a boyfriend living with his girlfriend and baby in a hotel. When Child Protective Services came to investigate the reports, they found baby Amara living in the hotel with her mom and dad. As social workers investigated the situation further, they were shocked to find that Amara’s mom was actually 16-year-old Ela who had been on runaway status from foster care. It quickly became clear that Ela’s boyfriend, Amara’s father, was physically abusive and putting both Ela and Amara in serious danger. Ela and baby Amara were placed back into foster care and went to live in a group home for young mothers with babies. Foreseeing the challenges that such a young mother in foster care would face, the judge in charge of Amara and Ela’s case assigned a volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) to help ensure that both girls were getting the services and resources they needed, and to advocate for a safe and permanent home for both Ela and Amara. The CASA assigned to the case was a seasoned Advocate who knew that Ela would most likely age out of foster care without being adopted. He immediately started visiting Ela and baby Amara in the home for young mothers and worked to make sure that Amara was receiving all her infant pediatric visits and that she was safe and healthy.

As time went on, it became clear that Ela was not able to care for Amara safely on her own without constant supervision from the group home. After much deliberation, the social worker made the difficult decision to move Amara into a different foster home to keep her safe. The CASA worked to make Amara’s transition into a new home as smooth as possible and advocated for regular visits between Ela and Amara so they could continue to build their relationship and bond. As Ela moved closer to aging out of foster care, she became less engaged with both her CASA and social worker and despite their best efforts to try and get her through high school and into secondary education, Ela ran away again and soon after, aged out of foster care.

Since then, Ela’s CASA and social worker were able to determine that Ela was living with some of her family out of town. It is their hope that someday, if Ela finds healing in her own life, she will be able to be part of her daughter’s life again. The CASA continues to visit Amara regularly at her foster home and is pleased to report that Amara is doing well and growing fast. He remains committed to being a safe and stable adult for Amara and a resource for Ela. The CASA hopes that Amara and Ela can one day break the cycles of abuse and neglect that have overshadowed their childhoods and live healthy and happy lives.

Gabe's Story

Gabe entered foster care for the third time when he was thirteen years old. His mom, suffering from severe mental illness, could not safely care for her son. When social workers came to investigate allegations of neglect of Gabe, they found the home to have no running water, electricity, or food. There were open containers of alcohol within reach of Gabe, and his mom tested positive for methamphetamine. Gabe went to live with a family member before he was moved into a group home soon after when his family was no longer able to provide care for him. His mom spiraled into her addiction and mental illness and expressed multiple times that she was not interested in getting Gabe back. The court eventually terminated the rights of his mom, and Gabe was placed into the long-term custody of the state.

Gabe’s volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocate was assigned to his case by a judge after Gabe had been in foster care for several years and had attempted to run away from the group home he was living in at the time. As the CASA met with Gabe and staff from his group home, it became clear that Gabe had a lot of anger and post-traumatic stress from the trauma that he experienced through his life. The CASA began facilitating communication between Gabe and his caretakers to help resolve some of the conflict that was occurring in the group home. Through the next several months, Gabe continued to struggle in his relationships and seemed to become more isolated and marginalized in his living situation. His CASA was a steady anchor for him through these times of loneliness, and encouraged Gabe to take responsibility for his own actions and find strategies to manage his anger. When Gabe was moved without warning to a new group home several hours away, the CASA immediately went to visit Gabe in his new home and began building relationships with his caretakers to ensure a smooth transition.

As Gabe approached the age of eighteen and the reality of aging-out of foster care, his CASA helped him investigate continuing education and life skill programs to help Gabe in his transition into adulthood. Gabe had been wanting to join the military from a young age and applied to a program for young adults intent on going into the military. Despite the uncertainty of his childhood and constantly having to adjust to new schools, Gabe was a very bright and dedicated student and his CASA and group home staff thought it would be a great next step for Gabe to join this military program. It was a big disappointment when the program turned down Gabe’s application because he was coming out of foster care, and because of previous records of his behavioral issues in one of his group homes. Gabe’s CASA did not give up on his future but advocated for the program to reconsider his application, arguing that Gabe should not be turned down because he was coming from foster care and because of early records of behavioral issues resulting from trauma. After further consideration, they agreed to let Gabe into the program. Gabe excelled in his courses and graduated right as he was about to age out of foster care. Now, at eighteen, Gabe is in independent housing for youth who have aged out of foster care and is working as he deliberates his next steps. Gabe’s childhood and adolescence were fraught with uncertainty and he went through numerous group homes, schools, and social workers while in foster care. Through it all, his CASA stuck with him to be a consistent and trusted adult for Gabe when he had no one else.

It takes two! Advocating for children as a couple

             Zane (13), Isaac (10), Serina (8), Maria (5)

Ken and Tessa became volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocates in the spring of 2018. Soon after swearing-in, the married couple decided to take on a group of four siblings and advocate for them together as a team. Their timing could not have been better as siblings Zane, Isaac, Serina and Maria entered foster care that same spring and CASAs Ken and Tessa were able to jump in and become steady and safe adults on the case from the beginning.

At the time of their removal, Zane was 10 years-old, Isaac 7, Serina 5, and Maria 2. The four children had been alternatively living between their grandparents’ house, and with their mom and dad. Ongoing reports concerning physical neglect and child-endangerment had put the family on the radar of local Child Protective Services. The four siblings were removed from the care of their biological parents after Child Protective Services found the youngest children in the care of their mother, father, and aunt, all of whom had been using methamphetamine and alcohol while supervising the kids. Additional reports of domestic violence going on in the home between their parents added another layer concern for the safety of the children.

The grandparents’ house had been a safe place for the kids to go through their young lives, and fortunately they were able to be placed with them right away instead of going into an unfamiliar home. Managing four small children full time was no small challenge, especially while juggling visitations with parents, attending court hearings, getting the kids to school, daycare, and their doctor appointments. Things quickly became overwhelming for the grandparents. On top of all these obligations, the grandparents needed to go through foster care training to become licensed to receive financial assistance from the state for all the kids. The CASAs began to visit the kids regularly and got to know the children on an individual basis, beginning to paint a picture of each child’s unique needs and wants. They also met with the biological parents who were working with Child Protective Services to address their substance abuse and ongoing domestic violence.

Right away, Zane and Isaac, the two oldest children, began to struggle in school and had frequent emotional outbursts throughout the day, interrupting their studies and their ability to have healthy friendships with other students. The CASAs began to meet with the boys’ teachers, counselors, and school administrators to figure out a plan to help the boys regulate their behavior and emotions throughout the school day. Together, they came up with a set of goals for the boys with rewards for achieved milestones. When the boys both successfully went a certain number of days without having disruptive and emotional outbursts in class, their reward was to have lunch with the school principal and their CASAs. Slowly, the boys, with the help of their teachers, counselors, grandparents, and CASAs, began to find healthy and appropriate ways of expressing their stress and their feelings. The CASAs were also able to advocate for the two younger girls, Serina and Maria. As Serina started school, Ken and Tessa made sure that she had the support and services she needed to transition into this new environment. They also brought Serina’s ongoing need for speech therapy to address a speech impediment to the attention of the court. Ken and Tessa played an important role in getting two-year-old Maria into a daycare program where she could be around kids her own age and help give the grandparents some much needed time off during the day.

Throughout this time, the CASAs were a steady and positive influence on the case. They persevered through countless court hearings, meetings with social workers, education meetings and doctor appointments. They encouraged and helped the grandparents become licensed foster parents so they could receive financial assistance from the courts and become a long-term option for the kids. Even when the case was frustrating or challenging, Ken and Tessa kept the children at the center of everything, maintaining a healthy relationship with the kids and shielding them from the stresses of the case. The influence and support that these Advocates contributed to this case was invaluable. Not only were they safe and stable adults for Zane, Isaac, Serina and Maria, but they also modeled a healthy and respectful relationship for the siblings in a time when that was very much lacking in their lives. The grandparents were incredible advocates for the children as well, insisting that their mom was not allowed to visit if she was not completely sober and staying committed to keeping the kids safe.

As the kids approach the end of their third year in foster care, their case is finally closing with a positive outcome. With the support and advocacy of the CASAs on the case, the grandparents have been granted permanent guardianship for all four of the kids. The kids are thriving in their grandparents’ home and have been able to maintain a positive relationship with the biological parents, despite their continued struggle with substance abuse and instability in their own lives. The grandparents allow both the mother and father to visit the children as regularly as they want, provided they are sober and safe when visiting. Finally, after three years of uncertainty and instability, the four siblings have a safe and permanent home with their grandparents, and they continue to have a positive relationship with Ken and Tessa who are no longer their CASAs officially but are now considered lasting friends of the family.

Mason's Story

Child Protective Services were called by medical staff when six-year old Mason was brought to the emergency room by his dad and stepmom with multiple injuries. Mason showed signs of neglect and physical abuse including dislocated shoulders and severe bruising. He spent two weeks in a hospital where a feeding tube was put in to combat malnourishment, and his shoulders were re-broken in order to heal them properly. Because of the severity of his case, Mason was put into a foster home in Yellowstone County and a judge immediately assigned a volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) to his case.

Mason’s transition into foster care was far from easy as he was significantly behind in school and developmental stages. Due to his history of abuse, Mason suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, which made his physical therapy sessions challenging. As he adjusted to foster care, Mason started to have behavioral outbursts in school and at home. However, Mason’s CASA was not ready to give up on him. She started attending school meetings to advocate for Mason’s educational and social needs and helped get him into proper Special Education classes. She faithfully attended medical appointments and was a support, not just for Mason as he went through the tumult of foster care, but also the foster family who struggled to manage Mason’s outbursts. When his foster parents expressed doubt in their ability to continue caring for him, the CASA encouraged them to keep fighting for Mason so he wouldn’t be moved to another unfamiliar place.

As they started to make progress after months of hard-fought battles, COVID-19 hit the community and Mason was thrown into another phase of instability. With school closures, the CASA and foster parents were afraid Mason would fall even farther behind in school. Fortunately, Mason’s CASA, a retired teacher, started tutoring him over Zoom so he could continue learning. She was an invaluable resource for both Mason and his foster parents throughout the stresses of COVID-19.

As he transitioned back to school, Mason’s teacher was excited to report the progress he had made. His CASA and foster parents are grateful to see that Mason’s behavioral outbursts are becoming less frequent and more manageable, and his doctors are pleased with his medical and therapeutic advancements. The outcome of Mason’s story in foster care has yet to be decided, but his CASA will continue to stand by his side and advocate for his needs, best interests, and a safe permanent home.

Asher's Story

Asher was removed from his parents’ care for the third time when he was six years old due to physical abuse from his dad, unmet mental health concerns with his mom, and severe hygiene issues in the home. After several incidents of behavioral outbursts in his foster home and school due to the trauma and upheaval he had experienced, Asher was placed into a residential psychiatric treatment center for children. It was at this time that a judge appointed a volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) to be Asher’s voice in court and help advocate for his needs throughout his time in foster care.

It became clear to the CASA right away that Asher had a long history of adults breaking their promises to him. The CASA went to visit Asher in his residential treatment center and advocated for his needs and appropriate services while he was placed there. Slowly, she began to build a trusting relationship with Asher through frequent visits and phone calls.

When it became clear that neither parent would be able to safely care for Asher, the CASA helped facilitate Asher being placed with his grandparents and continued to support them amidst ongoing struggles with Asher’s behaviors and the uncertainties of the case. Through different foster homes, social workers and attorneys, Asher’s CASA remained committed to staying by his side and being the consistent person he could rely on throughout his time in the foster care system.

Now, as a 9-year-old and after three long years in foster care, Asher is doing really well. His grandparents were recently granted legal guardianship of Asher, and he finally has the stability he needs to thrive. He and his grandparents will be moving out of state soon to be closer to extended family who will help support them and ensure that Asher grows up in a safe and permanent home.

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