Stories

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

Rita

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.

Parker & Eliza

Before his 5th birthday, Parker’s birth father had been incarcerated, and his mom, pregnant with his sister Eliza, was living with a new boyfriend who was physically abusive. At 8-months pregnant, mom tested positive for meth and Parker tested positive for cocaine through exposure in the home and was subsequently placed into foster care. When Eliza was born, she was placed with Parker who was staying with his grandfather. Soon after they entered foster care, a judge assigned a volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocate for the two children.

It quickly became apparent that Parker would need a significant amount of therapy for development and educational delays. The CASA worked tirelessly to find creative solutions to get Parker connected to the services he needed, despite frequent roadblocks. It was particularly challenging for the grandfather, who was elderly and struggling with his own health, to care for two young kids. Eliza, who had been exposed to a significant number of dangerous substances in utero had a lot of health issues of her own which needed to be addressed once she was born, including having to detox from meth in her system. Meanwhile, their mom continued to spiral into drug use and was evicted from her home. She and her boyfriend were living in a tent after Eliza was removed and the social worker and CASA on the case worried that she wouldn’t be able to get her life on track to get the kids back.

Tragically, almost a year into the case, the grandfather died unexpectedly, throwing the two siblings into another season of change and loss. As they transitioned into another foster home, the kids relied heavily on their CASA as a familiar and comforting adult.

It was at this time that mom started to engage with the social worker on the case to receive the services she needed to get back on her feet. Mom was able to get into a domestic violence shelter, where she was able to get clean from her addictions before transitioning into long-term housing. Slowly both kids transitioned back to live with their mom. To everyone’s relief, mom jumped right in to get Parker to all the appointments he needed to continue his healing process. Now, several months in, mom and kids are doing well together.

Kayden

As a toddler, Kayden was abandoned and left with strangers who abused him. The state placed Kayden with a foster family who became his legal guardians, but after a decade with this family, his foster father fell into addiction and Kayden was removed by the state again and placed in a group home. When his former foster parents filed for divorce, it was finally decided that he wouldn’t be able to go back to their care.

With no clear path forward, a judge appointed a CASA to Kayden’s case. Having experienced so much abandonment and uncertainty in his young life, Kayden was in desperate need of a stable relationship. Fortunately, because CASA Advocates commit to stay with a child in foster care until they find a safe and permanent home, the Advocate was able to be that stable person for Kayden.

The CASA was able to meet with him several times in those early weeks, but he was soon moved to an out-of-state treatment facility for behavioral issues. School was a serious struggle for Kayden who was behind in classes. Continued behavioral issues in and out of the classroom only caused more disruption in Kayden’s education. The CASA started to visit with Kayden over the phone and facetime during his months away in the ground home. Through phone calls, mailed letters and care packages, and they were able to slowly build a trusting relationship.

One day Kayden shared with his CASA that his grandparents were alive and living on the Hi-Line in Montana. The CASA began gathering more information, and was able to reach them, learning that they were caring people who had lost contact with Kayden while he was in foster care. The CASA walked them through what it would mean to bring Kayden into their home, and they agreed.

After eight months at the out-of-state facility, Kayden was discharged into the care of his grandparents. Since then, the CASA has traveled up to visit him several times as everyone awaits the adoption being finalized. The CASA also helped the grandparents get Kayden set up with a math tutor, and he is thriving in school. After a lifetime of inconsistency and dysfunction, Kayden is finally in a home that can provide stability and love. He continues to stay in close contact with his CASA, and updates her regularly on his school, sports and extracurricular activities.

Kaya & Carter

Siblings Kaya and Carter moved between campgrounds and motels with their parents in a cycle of homelessness for years while their parents struggled with addictions to methamphetamine. In addition, their dad struggled with untreated mental illness and the two kids hadn’t been to school for years when Child Protective Services were called to check in on the family. Due to safety issues presented by their parents’ substance abuse, their dad’s mental illness, and the neglect both kids were facing, the siblings were removed and placed into foster care.

The kids went to go stay with their adult cousin and her spouse while their parents started to work through a treatment plan with Child Protective Services. A volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) was assigned to their case soon after they entered foster care. Neither child had been to school in several years and the two kids had been caring for themselves and each other for the last several years while their parents had lapsed further into their substance abuse. Adjusting to the structure of school and home was challenging for Kaya and Carter in the beginning. Their CASA visited the kids frequently, becoming a steady relationship for them, and a source of support as they adjusted to a new phase of life in their foster home and school.

Thirteen-year-old Kaya struggled in a particular way with her identity and experienced bullying from other kids at school. Her CASA, coming from a place of non-judgement, was able to provide Kaya with an ear to listen and a safe place to talk about feelings and ask questions. At the same time, the CASA addressed the bullying with the school and continued to follow-up until she was sure it was no longer a problem.

Throughout the 8 months the kids were in care, the CASA also became a support and cheerleader for their parents. She met with them regularly and encouraged them to go through their treatment plans to get Kaya and Carter home. After long months of addressing their substance abuse, the dad’s mental illness, finding housing and stable employment, the parents were finally on the right track to provide a safe and stable home for their two kids.

After ups and downs in the case, the kids were able to go home to their parents right before Christmas. As part of the wrap-around support for the family, the CASA visited with the family every other week to make sure everyone was doing well. She was able to connect the family with the local food bank and other resources to ensure they had everything needed and they transitioned back to life as a family.

The case was officially closed this spring with the family back together and doing well. The kids are thriving in school and at home, and their CASA, who is no longer officially appointed to their case, has continued her relationship with the whole family, checking in with them frequently and being a source of support and connection for the

Paige & Sara

Twin sisters Paige and Sara were removed from the care of their mom and dad when they were four years old due to ongoing drug use by both parents. The girls’ dad was the primary caregiver for them as their mom would often leave the girls alone for long periods of time or take them with her into houses where drugs were being used and sold.

Paige and Sara were placed with their great-grandma while Child and Family Services started to work with the two parents to address their substance abuse and domestic disputes. Soon after the girls entered foster care, a judge appointed a volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) to the case. The Advocate, who had just completed CASA Pre-Service training, started to visit the girls regularly. The CASA fondly stated the girls loved to play outside in the sandbox at their great-grandma’s house, and that the girls loved to spend time together and had a close relationship to one another. The CASA became a steady presense for the girls and their great-grandma, visiting them regularly and building a relationship with them. She was a support to the great-grandma as she got used to taking care of two littler girls. Paige and Sara loved to do school flashcards with their CASA to learn their numbers and letters when she came to visit them.

The girls’ dad started to work through his treatment plan with Child and Family Services to address his substance use and anger management. He was able to visit the girls frequently under the supervision of their great-grandma, and he stayed in steady contact with the CASA to keep her updated on his progress. His relationship with the girls was positive and they were always excited when he came to visit them. Meanwhile, the girls’ mom continued to struggle with her substance use and didn’t stay engaged in the case or maintain a relationship with the girls.

Paige and Sara celebrated their fifth birthday and started kindergarten this year. They are living part time with their dad and slowly making the transition back to his full time custody and care. The CASA has been a great resource for both the great-grandma and the dad on the case and they rely on her insight as they  work together for the two girls. Since coming into foster care, Paige and Sara have been in a stable enviromnent which has given them the chance to learn, play, and just be kids. The CASA will continue to be a great support for everyone involved, and advocate for the best interests of the two girls until they achieve permanency.

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