The Heart of CASA: December 2022
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 family
Collaborative Family Engagement (CFE) is a cornerstone of our advocacy work for children involved in the child welfare system. A structured, team-based approach between CASA programs and Child Protective Services (CPS), CFE helps to develop a lifetime network of loving, supportive, and safe adults for a child involved in the child welfare system through finding, engaging, and working with family members and fictive kin. These connections often lead to more permanent homes and more positive outcomes for children in care and help a child develop a sense of hope and belonging.
EXPLORING the past
We currently have a case where a child named Travis* was adopted several years ago, after the parental rights of his birth parents were terminated in a separate CPS case involving abuse. Today the adoption is not working out, and Travis has entered care again. Now a teenager, he has no prospects for a placement with either unrelated foster parents or relatives of his adoptive parents.
The previous case did not happen in Montgomery County, so CASA Child Advocates had almost no information about his biological family, including his parents and extended family. Faced with this roadblock, Henry, Travis’s Advocate, started asking Travis about his memories of his parents and extended biological family members. Though his memories were fuzzy and he couldn’t recall specific names or details, Travis shared some of the connections he remembered enjoying from his childhood. Henry reached out to the CPS caseworker, and she located the name of Travis’s birth mother. Using only her name and dated contact information, CASA conducted a Seneca Search. A Seneca Search is an online tool that searches various databases and provides a summary of information about the person, including names and contact information of people connected to that person.
Reaching Out in the present
Henry and his supervisor worried they were grasping at straws, but they knew a family connection for Travis was critical for his future. Using the information provided by the Seneca Search, the Advocate contacted some members of the teenager’s biological family. The relatives remembered Travis, and they were extremely surprised to hear from Henry. Due to some misinformation they’d received years ago, they mistakenly believed that Travis had passed away! Within days of the initial conversations, several relatives from Travis’s biological family reached out to Henry to say they were interested in reconnecting with Travis. They began to learn more about his story since they last saw him, and they provided useful information about his life before he was removed from his birth parents’ home, too.
Connecting for a lifetime
The road ahead is long for Travis, and CASA doesn’t know where this path will lead yet. We’re hopeful that these renewed connections will provide a permanent, loving home for Travis. At the very least, the Advocate has uncovered family members that we never imagined existed when the case started. Every child has a family, and the child has a right to know and be connected to them. Through CFE, Henry has connected Travis to that family. Those initial phone calls can be awkward and confusing, but Henry knew he had to take a chance on newly discovered family members because those connections might change Travis’s life.
*Names changed for privacy