By Lydia Garcia
During a recent meeting with fellow CASA programs from across the country, an Executive Director mentioned that her vision for CASA is ensuring that every child we serve has their picture on someone’s refrigerator. Whether it’s their parents, relatives, foster placement, or even just their CASA volunteer, she wanted to know that at least someone was thinking about each kid in the Child Protective Services system and prioritizing them at the level where they might have a photo on their fridge*.
Having your picture on someone’s refrigerator may not seem crucial when you consider that the kids we serve are going through trauma and have a lot of needs to be met, but this concept resonated with me. It means something to have your photo up in someone’s home, especially in this day and age where we so rarely even bother to print photos when we have Instagram to share them on instead.
In fact, this concept specifically brought to mind the ofrenda, or offering, of Día de Muertos (October 31-November 2), where photos of our deceased loved ones are surrounded by their favorite foods, cempazuchitl (marigold) flowers, candles, religious icons and more. This altar and ofrenda serves to welcome our loved ones back to the land of the living for a visit to their family and friends.
Many people learned more about this Mexican tradition last year when Pixar’s Coco arrived on the big screen. One of the main storylines of the film concerns the deceased character of Héctor and his desperate attempts to make sure his photo is placed on someone’s ofrenda. He must accomplish this before he completely fades from living memory, and in turn fades away forever, no longer even living in the Land of the Dead. And, of course, he’s running out of time.
Héctor’s storyline was heart wrenching. He just wanted to know someone remembered him… cared about him. That was the only thing important to him. And how vital is that to the children we’re serving at CASA?
Imagine a child who’s been taken away from everything they love and find familiar (even if they were in a rare severe abuse scenario, children still feel love and connection to their family and home). Imagine their confusion and feelings of being lost and surrounded by strangers. Wouldn’t you want to feel that someone who knows you well is thinking about you—is concerned about and prioritizing you—in that moment?
And then jump ahead to a child or youth who has been in the system for years and whose parental rights have been terminated, but they haven’t reached a permanent home with loving relatives or adoptive parents. Unfortunately, there are plenty of youth who never reach that permanency and age out of the system at age 18. How vital is it to them to know that someone cares about them enough to have their photo up on their refrigerator?
While being in the foster care system does not equal being in the Land of the Dead, for children and youth who are feeling hopeless and unloved, bouncing from home to home, their feelings may be very similar to those of Héctor in his quest for someone to remember him. They deserve a photo on someone’s ofrenda for the living.
CASA volunteers can be at least one person who cares about and prioritizes that specific child, and then they can ensure there are more people who will do the same.
CASA volunteers can work to get a child to a safe, loving permanent home (whether reunified with their parents, or adopted by relatives or non-relatives) who will have not only their photo but also their artwork and report card and everything else the child does on their refrigerator. And if a permanent home isn’t working out after tireless efforts, CASA volunteers can ensure that youth build strong, healthy relationships with supportive adults. Adults who will be there for the youth as they enter adulthood, who will pick up the phone and answer their call, who will invite them over for the holidays, and who will definitely put up a photo on their refrigerator.
*It would break confidentiality for a CASA volunteer to have an actual photo of the youth they serve printed on their fridge and visible to others, but we know and appreciate that you are prioritizing the children you serve at this level!
Photo by Melinda Stuart
2018 October Culture & Diversity Advocacy