CASA volunteer Susan Anderson’s first case as an advocate involved an elementary school-aged girl, her infant sister, and Denise*, a single mother in a mental health and substance abuse crisis. The girls were removed from Denise’s care after a health scare brought her recent relapse into drug use to the attention of emergency room medical personnel. The girls were fortunate to be placed with trusted family friends who had cared for them in the past and to have Susan in their corner as soon as they entered the child welfare system.
With the guidance of her CASA supervisor Amy Buchele-Ash, Susan immediately set out to form a bond with the girls, learn about their needs and interests, and support the foster parents’ efforts to care for the girls in their town. She was a critical conduit of information between the girls’ foster parents and Denise. Most importantly, Susan collaborated with the three different case workers assigned to the girls over the 11 months they were in care and with community mental health center staff assigned to Denise to determine the best route for her to become clean, create a healthier living environment, and meet all of the other court-ordered requirements to regain custody of her girls.
Susan quickly learned that Denise had a loving relationship with her daughters despite the stress of poverty and was determined to do whatever it took to get them back. Her relapse into drug use had been precipitated by escalating challenges associated with caring for two young children all alone, without any familial or community supports in place. Susan was able to help Denise minimize her chances of relapsing into further drug use and up the odds of succeeding by helping her set up a new household near a stable group of peers and within walking distance from her new job (including identifying and meeting specific needs re: household items), and establish self-care habits.
CASA helped create the structure for a smooth transition to reintegration.
Susan knew that many things had to be in place for Denise to regain custody once she met the court-ordered requirements (such as showing evidence of legal employment, stable housing, clean drug tests, and the completion of parenting classes) and played a key role in that process. Susan supported Denise by removing some of the stressors in her life, including various obstacles and barriers to securing critical childcare. After helping enroll the baby in a quality pre-k program and her sister in camp at their foster placement, Susan helped Denise secure a spot for the baby in a quality pre-k program back in her town and helped her with paperwork and scholarship applications for afterschool programing for her older daughter.
“I’m a good professional nagger.”
Susan reflects that it was because she had the time and the willingness to “call and bug people” – and worked with Amy to harness CASA’s expertise, networks, and resources to help the family in myriad ways – that these girls were able to reintegrate with Denise after 11 months. She and Amy met frequently to determine the scope and feasibility of what exactly could be done to support the family so that the girls could live in a safe, permanent, and loving home. Denise told Susan that “having [her] as a constant person to help, having someone to call when [she] was worried about something, made all the difference.”
The older girl has been participating in team sports and recently won a citizenship award at school. Her baby sister was able to rejoin the family as soon as a daycare spot opened. Though the case was formally closed earlier this year, Susan continues to see the family once a month and plans to stay in touch for the foreseeable future. Denise welcomes her support and is grateful beyond measure to have her daughters back.
* Name changed for privacy.