Court Appointed Special Advocacy
CASA, our Court Appointed Special Advocates program, is at the heart of our mission and a shining example of ordinary individuals making an extraordinary impact in the lives of children.
CASA’s mission is to promote and advocate for the best interests of children involved in the hundreds of abuse and neglect cases in Franklin and Hampshire counties each year.
We change the course of the lives of vulnerable children by identifying and meeting their needs. Their future and our community’s legacy depend on it. Because we believe in a child’s best future.
It can be hard enough to find your place when growing up in a sibling group of 6, but when your mother struggles with mental health and drug abuse it can be that much more difficult to feel like you have a voice. After 8 years in and out of foster care, Marcus was introduced to his CASA and found his voice.
Prior to his involvement with CASA, Marcus was shuffled around numerous times—moving between his home and foster placements. While at home, Marcus was often left to care for his younger siblings with little supervision and no support from his mother. Though it was challenging, his siblings were his only source of connection and you can imagine how difficult it was for him as each out of home placement moved him away from them. With each new foster home Marcus would find himself in a new place and in a new school, which meant that in addition to the emotional distress he struggled to find any educational consistency.
After many placements, CASA was asked by the Juvenile Court to intervene and advocate for the best interests of all the children in Marcus’s family—and Marcus’s CASA got to work right away. After speaking with everyone involved in his life, she began meeting routinely with the most important person in it: Marcus. In time he revealed to her that he was weary of moving in and out of homes and wished to be adopted. He worried that his mother would be hurt by this but knew that it was what was best for him. His CASA conveyed this information to his attorney, social workers and therapist being mindful that this was a difficult decision for him, and found they supported this goal. Marcus’s foster parents also truly wanted this for him and made it clear that they wished to move forward with the adoption.
With unwavering support from his CASA, 13 year old Marcus created a plan. The first step was to reveal his wishes to his mother, and to say that it was a difficult task would be an understatement. Despite how much he loved her, the truth was that the instability of his life with her was not easy for him. After many guided steps through the process, Marcus was finally able to be adopted at the age of 15. Beside him each step of the way was his CASA—supporting him and believing in his best future. What a remarkable young man…and what a remarkable new beginning paved by CASA.
Before her CASA intervened, “Sarah” lived in 17 foster homes in the three years following her removal from her mother’s care. At the age of 6, her experiences with her mother’s drug abuse and neglect resulted in behaviors that included swearing, dangerous tantrums and assaulting other children and pets. She absolutely needed protection; the instability she faced only compounded her suffering.
Sarah’s CASA believed that she was a bright child with great potential. Her CASA strenuously advocated for appropriate interventions and supports in the right setting, so Sarah did not have to move every time she acted out her pain. Sarah now feels safe and is living in a group home where staff members truly understand her needs. Her school teachers believe in her capabilities, help her manage her behavior and have supported her so that she now reads above grade level. Sarah is flourishing! Without the intervention of her CASA, Sarah’s series of trauma, rejection and instability would have defined her life, but today she is a child with hope and promise.
“Alex” was removed from his father’s home when he was 12 because his father used “water boarding” as a means of discipline. The toll this experience and other abuses took on Alex resulted in his placement in a psychiatric hospital. His father had been given sole custody of Alex during divorce proceedings, when his mother (who had cognitive impairments and substance abuse issues) was deemed unable to care for her child. Despite his desire to reconnect with his mother, Alex’s request for reunification was repeatedly ignored.
The Juvenile Court contacted our CASA program so that Alex’s best interests could be assessed. His CASA investigated and found that little had been done to contact Alex’s mother and, therefore, no evaluation of her current competency as a parent had been considered. The CASA learned his mother had been substance free for three years, was employed full-time and had an effective support system in place. Most importantly, she longed to connect with Alex and to be his mother again.
Rather than subject Alex to the instability of temporary foster care, his CASA volunteer facilitated the collaboration of Alex’s attorney and social worker so they could formally assess his mother’s parental fitness, with an eye on his permanency needs. When that evaluation successfully demonstrated his mother’s caregiving capabilities, the Court ordered visitation and ultimately granted his mother permanent custody of her son. The smile on Alex’s face was never broader than the day he left to permanently live with his mom!