Speaking up for Felicia and Noemi

Apr 26 2013

By Callie Langford, Originally published in TODO Austin Magazine

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, a month dedicated to raising awareness about the needs of children and families across our country. Last year in Travis County alone, almost 2,000 children were brought into the care of Child Protective Services after having experienced abuse or neglect in their homes. CASA of Travis County believes every child who's been abused or neglected deserves to have a dedicated advocate speaking up for their best interest in court, at school and in our community. To accomplish this, CASA educates and empowers diverse community volunteers who ensure each child's needs remain a priority in an over-burdened child welfare system. Here is one CASA volunteer’s story of advocating for two young sisters to help them reach a safe, permanent home and stay connected with their family:

Felicia and her baby sister Noemi have smiles that could melt your heart, in spite of having gone through a lot in their young lives. When Felicia was two, the girls were removed from their young mother’s home when her immaturity and inability to care for her children proved too unsafe for them. The girls were far behind in their development, and Felicia displayed aggressive behavior and had not yet begun talking. At first, the little girls went to live with relatives, but this home quickly proved unsafe as well and the children were placed with a foster family.

CASA volunteer Sue Johnson visited Noemi and Felicia in their foster home often to see how they were doing. She saw they were thriving with a foster family interested in adopting them, but she also knew how important maintaining a strong bond with their mother and their biological family was, especially early in their developmental years. “I wanted to make sure they had ties to their family history and their culture,” Sue recalls. She worked hard to preserve the girls’ relationship with their mother, but that connection proved unsuccessful. Sue was having a difficult time finding appropriate family members who could provide a good home.

Finally, a paternal cousin was found who was excited to care for the girls. After the prior disappointments, Sue wanted to ensure this would be a protective and healthy home. Sue attended the cousin’s visits with the girls in their foster home. She was very open with the cousin’s family about her concerns. Fortunately, the family was willing to go beyond what was required to show they could provide a safe and loving permanent home.

With Noemi and Felicia living with their cousin’s family, Sue stayed in close contact with them, observing positive growth for the girls during her visits. Felicia was calming her aggressive behavior and was learning to talk. Noemi glowed with all the attention she got from her new family and they were receiving support from the entire extended family. Sue felt confident this was the right home.

Sue proved a strong advocate for the best interests of Noemi and Felicia throughout the case. She knew it was in their best interest to remain connected to their biological family, if possible. “I told the judge how well-cared for Felicia and Noemi were by this warm and welcoming family,” Sue recalls. Noemi and Felicia were officially welcomed into their new family during a joyous adoption celebration, and their sweet smiles lit up the room.