Heart of CASA: December 2023
The Heart of CASA is a series to highlight the aspects of our volunteer work. Advocacy for a child in care covers several activities from court hearings to visits with a child to conversations with parents. Each month, we’ll share a story of a small (or big!) moment from one of our cases that exemplifies what advocacy can mean to a child and their families.
CONNECTION TO home
Teenage sisters Bekah and Rachel are forever home for the holidays this year, after spending the last three Christmases living in foster homes. When 2023 started, the girls were losing hope that they would find an adoptive family together. After their parents’ rights had been terminated in 2021, the girls had lived in various foster homes and one relative placement, but none were able to provide a permanent home.
The current foster home was meeting their basic needs and the girls were safe, but their Advocate, Lindsay Miller, said the girls lacked connection. She grew increasingly concerned for their well-being and future.
“At our visits, I could see the lights dimming in their eyes,” Lindsay said. “The oldest was almost 17 and fell into the wrong crowd. She was struggling at school. I would tell the judge at hearings that she was acting out because she wanted acceptance, connection with someone.”
Hope for connection
Lindsay, Child Protective Services caseworkers, and the children’s attorney ad litem had explored several family members during the entire case. For various reasons, none appeared to be able to provide a home for the girls. The girls also participated in adoption fairs and the RAS (Review and Approval Staffing) process that matches children with a potential adoptive family that meets their needs. A few families showed interest in adopting the girls. Ultimately, those possibilities did not work out.
In January 2023, a co-Advocate, Paolina Fasula, joined Lindsay on the case. She met with the girls, learning more about them, their past, and their families. At her March visit with the girls, Paolina brought Chik-Fil-A and crocheting supplies. While the girls worked on crochet projects, they shared stories about their family with Paolina. The girls also shared some family photos from when they were younger. As Paolina looked through the photos, she saw happy families living normal lives and started to wonder how they were all connected and if any of them could be a connection for the girls.
I can’t shake the feeling that we need to go back to the drawing board and look at family members again for these girls.”
“I asked them ‘Can I do a family tree with you?’ I’m confused by all these people!” Paolina said. “They knew who they all were. I couldn’t keep everyone straight. We made a family tree together so that I could keep track! I asked the girls to tell me about each family member.”
The girls told her that their great aunt, Cindy, was the glue of the family, the organizer who kept everyone in touch. Their grandmother and great-grandmother lived with Cindy. The girls told Paolina they liked and trusted Cindy and Cindy’s daughter, who was an adult. The girls said they would feel safe in either of these homes. Paolina wrapped up her visit with the girls and knew she needed to talk to Lindsay and their CASA Case Supervisor, Allison Conner, immediately.
“I literally drove from their foster home, pulled over into a parking lot, and called Allison and Lindsay,” Paolina said. “I told them ‘These girls have more family. We need to explore them.’”
That same day Paolina was visiting the girls, Lindsay was at work at the CASA house. She found Allison Conner, the CASA Case Supervisor.
“I told Allison, ‘I can’t shake the feeling that we need to go back to the drawing board and look at family members again for these girls.’ At the same time that I’m talking to Allison about looking at family again, Paolina is doing a family tree with the girls. The exact same time,” Lindsay said. “She’s new to the case so she’s learning about family members we’d already crossed off for various reasons.”
an amazing family
Paolina and Lindsay looked into both Cindy and her daughter as possible placements and believed Cindy would be a good fit for the girls. Earlier in the case, Cindy had been ruled out for placement of the girls due to a relative who lived in the home with a criminal history. CPS could not approve the home study. When Paolina contacted Cindy, she [Cindy] told her that she never thought she was an option because of the relative being on probation.
“I met with Cindy, great-grandmother, and the relative in the home,” Paolina said. “The relative had been clean for two years and was a star probationer. I was very impressed with Cindy. We did a home study and talked with Cindy about how we could make this work.”
CPS still had some hesitation with the home due to the relative living there. The Advocates talked with Cindy about how to get the home approved by CPS for the girls. The relative who was a concern offered to move out to speed up the approval process. The relative moved in with another family member, and CPS approved the home for the girls.
“Cindy never thought she was an option [for placement] because of her relative,” Paolina said. “She didn’t realize her family member would be willing to move. That’s what makes this family so amazing—once they knew the obstacle, everyone did what needed to be done to get the girls home with family.”
That’s what makes this family so amazing—once they knew the obstacle, everyone did what needed to be done to get the girls home with family.”
Lindsay visited the girls the day they moved into Cindy’s home in June 2023. When the girls arrived, several extended family members greeted them along with balloons and banners.
“The entire family was celebrating the girls being back home with family,” Lindsay said. “There had been a sadness in their eyes for so long. The day they moved in with Cindy there was a light in their eyes I had not seen in years. They were finally home.”
Though their foster homes had been safe and caring, the girls never felt at home in their other placements. Paolina agreed that the girls feel like they are home with Cindy and their great-grandmother. Several other family members, including cousins, live nearby. The girls are surrounded by love and connection.
There aren’t enough places around the table—we’re all squished in together. They’re thrilled to have the girls home!”
“They live in a house with happiness,” Paolina said. “When I used to visit the girls in the foster home, I always brought the girls lunch. The three of us would eat in this dark kitchen alone. Now, I bring dinner to the girls and family once a month, and the table is filled with the girls, Cindy, their great-grandmother, cousins, aunts. There aren’t enough places around the table—we’re all squished in together. They’re thrilled to have the girls home!”
Connection to community and faith
At the March visit when Bekah and Rachel first talked to Paolina about their family, they also told her they wanted to go to summer camp with a church that their relatives still attended. They missed the church they remembered attending as children. Already an active member in the church, Cindy quickly connected the girls with the junior high and high school youth groups at the church. The church offered to help Cindy and the girls with whatever they needed, and the church family became another source of connection for the girls.
They went to the summer camps they wanted to attend. When the girls returned, Bekah texted her Advocates, caseworker, and attorney ad litem: Hey beautiful ladies. I’m going to be baptized next week and I want you all to come.
Lindsay attended the girls’ baptism along with the caseworker and the girls’ attorney (Paolina was traveling), and they sat with Cindy and the rest of the family.
“The girls came up to us after it was over,” Lindsay said. “Bekah wrapped her arms around me and wouldn’t let go. We both broke down crying.”
home forever for the holidays
At National Adoption Day in November 2023, Bekah, Rachel, and Cindy stood, holding hands, in front of Judge Amy Tucker as she finalized the girls’ adoption by Cindy. After three-and-a-half years in the child welfare system, Bekah and Rachel found a safe, loving home with their maternal great aunt.
The year started with little hope for finding an adoptive family after years of closed doors and dead ends. Yet, the year is ending with the girls happy at home, surrounded by their family and connected to their community. Lindsay and Paolina knew they needed connection, and they tirelessly advocated for the girls until they found it.