From CASA Volunteer to Foster Parent

May 30 2017

From CASA Volunteer to Foster Parent

By Steven Olender

Amy Forget is a planner, through and through. So when, in her late 30s, she decided to get more serious about having children, she thought seriously about her options. The fertility route was not for her and she questioned why birthparents would choose her for open adoptions. (“I couldn’t even find adoption agencies that would work with a single woman in her 40s,” she explained.) Amy landed on becoming a foster parent. “I’m an analytical person and when I looked at it, adoption from foster care seemed the most likely path.”

Becoming a foster parent, though, has its challenges. “It scared me because I knew nothing about foster care,” she said.  “I’d heard horror stories.” One story in particular worried Amy, that of friends who had been part of a failed foster placement. The couple had agreed to foster their young niece who had suffered extreme trauma at the hands of her parents and had further complications due to drug use in utero. The family eventually found they could not keep the child in their home after she grew violent against their other children and the strain of her behavioral issues pushed them to a breaking point.

With that as a model, it would be easy to understand some reticence on Amy’s part about fostering, but still she was determined. Always a planner, she knew she had to be prepared, which led her to volunteering with CASA. “I knew I needed to make a lot of changes before I could bring some kids into my home. I had some problems and was traveling too much,” she explains. “So I decided to make a year commitment to CASA to figure out how I could make it work.”

In actuality, her case with CASA last two and half years, advocating for three children, all of whom had different levels of need. Amy’s CASA case illuminated some of the realities of foster parenting for her. “I knew from firsthand experience with those children that I needed Basic Service Level kids,” she said, referring to the levels of therapeutic need for children in care. “I knew that’s what I could handle.” She also gained from her case a resolve to stick it out through hard times, built on seeing the devastating effects of bouncing placements. One of the children on her CASA case, at only two and a half years old, had moved between ten placements. “Every time my kids would move, the night terrors would start over. The behavior problems would start over,” Amy explained. “I decided [as a foster parent] I was not going to turn in notice on kids. I was going to stick it out.”

While working her case, Amy had the chance to talk with caseworkers who told her they often placed children first with the foster parents licensed through CPS, so she decided to pursue licensure that way. In her training, she felt her experience with CASA gave her the upper hand because she understood how the system worked in a way that other potential foster parents didn’t. “Having that knowledge from CASA set my expectations,” she said. That knowledge meant she knew what she could and couldn’t do for a case, and helped her to define the sort of foster parent she wanted to be. “I wanted to be the first and only nonrelative placement for any child in my home,” she explained.

When she got the call from CPS, she found herself with a toddler and an infant. “I knew what I was getting into because of CASA,” she said. “But the first month was still unbelievably difficult.” The children had been left alone and both had night terrors. Amy’s mother came in to help prepare the home and ease the transition. “She still says it was the hardest week of her life,” laughed Amy. “She was only there for 48 hours.”

Though it was hard, Amy leaned on her work with CASA. “I knew from experience that it would get better,” she said. “It was only going to get worse for them if I sent them somewhere else.” There are still rough days, but things have gotten easier. The children laugh and play together and though they seem to have more on their minds than children their age should, the house is full of love.

There isn’t a CASA volunteer on her case, but the caseworker and attorneys love that Amy is so dedicated to keeping them updated. She thinks of her CASA volunteer work as an important part of her foster training, one more parents should take part in. “I think a lot of foster parents don’t know what they’re getting into,” she said. “That’s why so many just take one placement and never do it again.” As for Amy’s days as a CASA volunteer, she says she would love to come back once she’s no longer a foster parent. She knows her experiences would help her be an even better volunteer in the future.