Douglas County, Kansas

From “Survival Mode” to Making Plans for the Future: A CASA Teen’s Journey

October 18, 2023

(Pictured above: CASA volunteer Marissa Naggi)

Many CASA children come to the attention of the court when a truancy report is made by their school. Not surprisingly, truancy is often a symptom of much larger problems the children are experiencing in their homes and with their families. Marissa Naggi’s CASA kid Brooke* is a teenager who had been living with a parent struggling with substance abuse and unable to provide a sanitary home environment for their children.

When investigators visited, they discovered a home that was in a deplorable condition (including an alarming number of animals). Brooke was removed from the home and lived in four different placements (one with a family member and the other three in foster homes) in only two months before landing in an independent living home over 150 miles away from her hometown.

Immediately upon assignment to the case, Marissa set about building a relationship with Brooke, getting to know her, and earning her trust. Particularly because Brooke was forced to live so far away from her friends and resources (and had no idea when she’d be able to return), the two spoke every day. Marissa recalls that Brooke “needed someone to talk to, to vent to, someone who could explain what was going on with her case.”

Brooke felt comfortable sharing her concerns and loneliness with Marissa, and she would first call Marissa when she experienced problems that she struggled to solve on her own. Marissa took the opportunity to work with Brooke on life skills as they tackled challenging situations – like a missing driver who was supposed to transport Brooke to a scheduled visit with her parent and a caseworker who was on vacation and unreachable. 

A few months later, fortunately, Brooke was able to move back to her hometown. Thanks to the donations that Marissa helped arrange for her, Brooke is now able to sleep in a real bed (rather than on a mattress on the floor) for the first time in her life with new bedding and pillows for a fresh, clean start.

“She can do a lot but needs the encouragement from someone in her life who cares about her; I’m her cheerleader.”

Before the start of the school year, Brooke asked Marissa to take her to her school to register for classes and talk to the counselor about what it would take to graduate given all the school she missed when she was in crisis. Marissa is focused on being a steady, supportive mentor in Brooke’s life who is willing and able to text with her every day, help get her to school if necessary, cheer her on when she turns in assignments, offer suggestions about how she can talk with her teachers, and encourage her to work through her social anxiety and trauma in order to keep showing up at school and work towards the future she wants to experience.

“She had always been in survival mode.”

Marissa reflects that, when they first met and she asked Brooke what she wanted her future to look like, Brooke was unable to answer. She had been so consumed with simply making it through each day in her household and enduring so many years of neglect that she had never given it any real thought.

Now that she’s found some stability and has a relationship with Marissa, Brooke is considering trade school and is making concrete plans to visit and learn more. She is also able to focus on herself and what she can control rather than feel like she’s a victim of her environment.

With Marissa in her corner to answer questions like “How do I cut my dog’s nails?” (Marissa stopped by and showed her), Brooke has someone who can help her learn more skills, find solutions to problems, and keep moving forward.

* Name changed for privacy

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