Carolyn Johnson, a volunteer supervisor who has been with CASA for 23 (!) years, mentioned to the rest of the staff at a recent meeting that one of her volunteers is still in contact with a former CASA youth who has since aged out of the child welfare system. Carolyn announced with pride that this young woman is successfully navigating life as an adult, with a job and her own apartment. When asked for some background about this CASA youth and her volunteer, Carolyn shared this:
Advocating for teens is a challenge for several reasons: they are slow to trust, they change placements often and can be placed far away, they are in the middle of a very difficult stage of development, they often make poor choices. All of these challenges were present in Christine’s* first case as a CASA volunteer.
The teen to whom Christine was assigned had endured extensive trauma as a very young girl. She was adopted from an impoverished foreign country as a toddler, which makes it likely for a child to have some developmental delays. She struggled in school from an early age. In adolescence, she experienced a great deal of anxiety and depression. She didn’t get along very well with the other members of the family.
Eventually, her adoptive parents made the decision to relinquish their parental rights, and she was brought into the child welfare system. She remained in the system until she turned 18. In the first two years, she lived in 11 different temporary foster placements! For much of that time, she was a 2-3 hour drive away from Lawrence. Christine was a true road warrior, remaining consistent in visiting Sienna* wherever she was living. Christine and Sienna bonded over makeup and pedicures.
Christine was a fierce advocate and also helped Sienna learn to advocate for herself, especially when appearing in court and speaking with the judge. There were times when they seemed close, and times that they were estranged, because Sienna didn’t always agree with what Christine thought was in Sienna’s best interests. Christine didn’t push; she remained calmly “present” in her advocacy while she hoped Sienna would come around. Christine was and is an excellent role model—an intelligent, kind, compassionate woman, who has a passion for helping people who are less fortunate than she is.
Six months after Sienna aged out of the system, the two women are friends.
*names changed for privacy
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