By Fran Markowski, Senior Child Advocacy Specialist, CASA of Travis County
I want to share a story with you from one of my recent cases. Every day at work, I’m reminded what the power of a dedicated CASA volunteer and strong advocacy can do for some of our community’s most vulnerable children. In the case of these kids, there might not have been a happy ending without the work of a truly incredible advocate.
When the volunteer on this case and I first met Jamal (age 2), Maya (age 3), Zoe (age 5), and Sierra (age 9), they were living in chaos, having bounced around from one shelter and foster home to the next. Their fathers weren’t in the picture, and their mother was struggling with drug abuse. She didn’t always have appropriate babysitters and sometimes even left her children locked in a closet.
"The children felt unwanted and unworthy of attention and care, let alone love."
The children felt unwanted and unworthy of attention and care, let alone love.
After living in a shelter, never a desired home for children, they went to their grandmother’s home. We hoped she would keep them together, but four young children proved too much for her and she had to ask CPS to come get them. The younger two, Jamal and Maya, shared a father and went to live with his Aunt Simone. The older two, Zoe and Sierra, slept in CPS offices while the state looked for a home. CASA requested an emergency hearing so that Aunt Simone could take them all, and the siblings reunited that day.
I’ve worked in the child welfare field for a long time, and I know firsthand that without the intervention of CASA and our focus on making sure children have safe placements, it would’ve taken so much longer for these siblings to find homes outside of the shelter or the CPS offices.
"Your investment in CASA and the work that we do means that children have dedicated volunteer advocates who will make sure that they do not have to sleep in the CPS offices."
Your investment in CASA and the work that we do means that children have dedicated volunteer advocates who will make sure that they do not have to sleep in the CPS offices and that we’ve seen their placements are safe with our own eyes. Over the course of a year, 750 CASA volunteers are showing up for kids every single day in Travis County, no matter what.
Aunt Simone loved the children very much and did the best she could, but I could see that she was challenged to provide all the things that four, rapidly growing kids needed. And the past trauma that the older two children, Zoe and Sierra, had experienced resulted in behaviors that were very hard to manage. I saw personally how my volunteer and I became a critical support system for Aunt Simone as we advocated for permanency and safety for the children and more resources for her. Ultimately, we found that Aunt Simone was able to provide more stability with just little Jamal and Maya in her home.
"Even though the siblings couldn’t be in the same home anymore, my volunteer did everything she could to keep them connected."
Even though the siblings couldn’t be in the same home anymore, my volunteer did everything she could to keep them connected by making sure their placements had each other’s emails and phone numbers, and she even facilitated them spending nights and weekends with each other when possible. She took the time to really get to know this family and to build trust with them. She understood that when children can maintain connections, they are safer, and I know she was instrumental in breaking down the barriers between the siblings so that they could begin healing together, even in separate homes.
Thankfully, CASA helped locate Sierra’s father, who very much wanted to reunite with his daughter. He was living in California at the time but moved to Texas so that he could be awarded custody of Sierra. He settled in Dallas, and my volunteer worked with child advocates there to ensure his home was safe and appropriate. Sierra was thrilled to live with her “pops,” who is a wonderful father.
"Thankfully, CASA helped locate Sierra’s father, who very much wanted to reunite with his daughter."
Without any family to care for Zoe, whose father signed away his rights, she moved into a foster home. It ended up being a perfect fit! The family gave her lots of attention and support, and Zoe delighted in giving us a “Zoom tour” of her new room. Zoe struggled with reading, so my volunteer made sure that her teacher, foster parents, and tutors worked together to get her on grade level. She is excelling now!
With all four of the kids in stable homes, we were finally headed in the right direction. But when COVID hit and Jamal and Maya could no longer go to daycare, their Aunt Simone struggled to keep them fed and busy. Thankfully, CASA quickly connected her to resources so Jamal and Maya could stay in her care.
Many families like Aunt Simone’s have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. There is no cushion to rely on after a job loss or if they must choose between staying home with kids or going to work. Because of your support, CASA can provide essential resources for these relative placements.
Today, Jamal, Maya, Zoe, and Sierra are thriving. Sierra just started middle school in Dallas, and she is loving learning and being with her father. In July, Zoe was adopted by her foster family, and Jamal and Maya were adopted by their aunt. It was an uphill battle to get all of the adoption paperwork done in a pandemic. The families and children were full of anxiety while waiting, but the dedication of their CASA volunteer never wavered as she consistently called and emailed the State adoption caseworkers frequently to keep things moving forward. One of them even remarked to her that “nobody advocates quite like you!” But she didn’t care if she was being too persistent. She knew these kids needed permanent homes. If anyone was standing in the way of that happening ASAP, she would let them know.
"Your support ensures that CASA volunteers can be a powerful voice for children like Jamal, Maya, Zoe, and Sierra."
Your support ensures that CASA volunteers can be a powerful voice for children like Jamal, Maya, Zoe, and Sierra. Your gift—which will be doubled if made by Dec. 31—allows us to help children reach safe homes.
While participating in these two adoptions over Zoom, my volunteer and I shared our joy and appreciation with the judge. Like Sierra with her father, Jamal and Maya were reuniting with their family—not just Aunt Simone, but also a bevy of loving aunts and uncles who formed a village of support. Zoe’s adoptive family beautifully expressed the importance of her continued connection to her biological family and cultural heritage.
While we’re grateful for this happy ending, I recognize that the pandemic put this outcome in jeopardy. I honestly don’t know what would’ve happened to these children without CASA. The kids CASA serves are particularly vulnerable right now as the stressors that worsen abuse and neglect rise. CASA’s judges are concerned by the many new cases they are seeing. CASA needs to be ready to serve even more children.
You are valued and needed more than ever before. With your help, a child can have the powerful voice of a CASA volunteer like the one on this case to help them reach a safe, permanent home as quickly as possible.
There’s no way we can do this without you. I hope you will give today.