Heart of CASA: July 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 an incarcerated parent
At nine months old, Samuel* entered the child welfare system after allegations of neglect by his mother, Natalie*, who had a history of substance abuse. Child Protective Services began the search for Samuel’s dad, Jason*, and found him in a Texas state prison, due to crimes unrelated to removal of the child from his home. With no potential family members or friends as placement, Samuel was placed in a foster home.
When CASA volunteer Clara* was appointed as Samuel’s Advocate, she began to work with Natalie to learn more about their family. Though Jason would not be released from prison before the court would need to make a decision on Samuel’s long-term care and placement, Clara knew it was important to reach out to Samuel’s dad so that she could determine best interests for the baby.
Prison and the child welfare system
Between 15 and 20 percent of children who enter the child welfare system have incarcerated parents. Having a parent in prison before one’s 18th birthday is one of the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), traumatic events that can have negative, lasting effects on health and well-being. The presence of protective factors, such as parental resiliency and safe relationships, can often mitigate the consequences of ACEs.
Children of incarcerated parents mourn the loss of their parent, and the CASA network operates under the belief that the vast majority of parents love their children and advocates to keep families connected whenever safe and possible.
After Clara got permission from Jason’s attorney to contact him, she started the journey to build a relationship with him.
Persistence pays off
Reaching out to a parent in jail or prison can often be intimidating for Advocates. They are tasked with navigating a complicated system with several barriers to communication. Clara knew she could send a letter to Jason, but she wanted the opportunity to talk with him directly so that she could get to know him and learn more about his hopes and dreams for Samuel.
Clara called the prison where Jason was housed and asked to set up a phone call with an inmate. She was told no by three people before she finally spoke with a supervisor who gave her the procedures and sent her an application to set up a phone call. Every month of the case, Clara had to fax the request, ensure it was received, get approval from the warden, and confirm the call 48 hours ahead of time before she could speak with Jason. She was not daunted by the multi-step process to talk to Jason every month because she knew her efforts would help connect Samuel to his dad.
“I became his encourager,” Clara said. “We try to encourage every person in a child’s life. [Jason] made a diligent effort to help himself and his child. He opened up and shared with me about his past. He was determined to the very best father he could be for his child.”
Clara learned through their monthly phone calls about the classes he was taking in the prison so that he could find employment when he was released. Clara and Jason also share the same faith, and she listened as he talked about his Bible classes and devotionals. Clara told him about her visits with Samuel and all that she was learning about him during her monthly visits. She shared with Jason about the words he was learning, games he liked to play, and toys he liked. Clara said he loved to hear how his son was developing and growing. Natalie also set up times to talk with Jason on the phone and was able to set up a video call for dad and son.
Hope for the future
When the case closed, Natalie and Samuel had been successfully reunited after Natalie completed the tasks required of her by the Department of Family and Protective Services and the return home was monitored for several months. Clara remained connected to Jason through monthly phone calls, and he was excited to hear how Samuel was doing back with his mom.
“The father figure is so important in a child’s life,” Clara said. “There are a percentage of people in jail who can turn their lives around if they have a support system when they get out. They can change.”
Thanks to Clara’s persistence in getting to know Samuel’s dad, Jason has been able to develop his support system in the community through connections to his son, the mother of his child, and a local church. He is scheduled to be released from prison in the fall of 2023.
Clara’s hope is that her time spent encouraging Jason will help him to continue to build connections with his son. Those connections, in turn, will help lessen the impact of Samuel’s trauma and help him develop resiliency.
*Names changed for privacy