Imagine the Difference You Can Make
A freshly roasted turkey, desserts piled high on the sideboard, the fragrance of pine in the air, gifts, twinkling lights and the laughter of family and friends. That’s what the holiday season is all about … for most of us.
But not all. For many children in foster care, it is lonely and dark. There is no family. There is no laughter. There are no visitors. These children are victims, innocent victims. They don’t deserve the life they’ve been given. They are the most innocent among us. Let me tell you about Joy* …
At only nineteen months, Joy and her young parents were living on an abandoned boat with no electricity, heat, or running water. Joy’s parents, who had already lost one child to foster care, had a long history of homelessness and heroin abuse. When the child protective services investigator saw Joy, she had tiny bite marks, bruises and scratches on her arms and legs. Her clothes were too small and her diaper was saturated with urine. Carrying Joy, these drug-addicted parents would jump onto the boat and, while holding on, inch their way to the doorway. The roof leaked, insulation was exposed and hanging from the ceiling, and there was old food in varying stages of decay. Joy was immediately placed into foster care.
This is where Genie, who’s been with us as a CASA volunteer for the last fifteen years, came in:
I became Joy’s CASA when she was placed by the Department of Social Services with two wonderful foster parents. I visited her many times and could see that she was happy and healthy. When I was in the foster parents’ home, I checked to see that Joy was safe. Joy’s foster parents had decorated the most beautiful bedroom for her, even including another bed so her older sister, who had already been adopted, could come spend a weekend each month.
I visited Joy at daycare too, and played with her and the other children in her class. Many times I took my favorite little packs of Wiki-Sticks (clay), and the entire class and I made letters, numbers and little figures. Of course, Joy was the one to pass them out to her friends. I will always remember how she called, “Miss Genie is here!” as she ran to give me a hug.
Unfortunately, there was another side to this case. I felt obligated to give Joy’s parents an opportunity to fight their addiction. It was detective work trying to locate them. They were homeless, sleeping on the streets or staying for short stretches with friends. I looked for them at a home in Baltimore, but their disheveled friend would not tell me where they were. The home was filthy and clearly unsafe for children. I called all of their cell phone numbers over fifty times. They only answered once.
One day, the DSS worker was able to track down Joy’s parents. We met in a park. In the many months that Joy had been in foster care, they had only one visit with her. They gave many excuses … but never once asked how Joy was.
It was obvious to me that Joy would have a much better and safer life with her foster parents who had fallen deeply in love with her. It was my task then to ensure that the Judge had all the information needed to make the best decision. At an early hearing in this case, Joy’s mother seemed so sincere and so willing to change. But, I also heard her say, as she apologized to the Judge, “We can’t even take care of ourselves.” I wrote this down; it was so obviously true. At the next hearing, when the Judge asked if there was anyone else who had information to offer, I stood up and repeated that quote, “We can’t even take care of ourselves.” CASAs stand up for children.
Joy was adopted by this wonderful family. Her adoptive mother wrote recently that Joy “is doing wonderfully! She’s becoming more mature, speaking so nicely, and says the funniest things!” She also said, “We think of you as our extended family and hope that we stay in touch as often as possible. Thank you so much for everything that you did for Joy and for us. We are forever indebted to you.”
My husband and others who know I’m a CASA ask me how I do this. My answer to them … how can I not?