I’m Beth. I’m the director of the CASA program. CASA volunteers are court appointed special advocates and are appointed by the court to children or in the care of the court because their parents can’t take care of them. Or the adults in their life, but it’s usually a parent.

These children come into care and are placed with foster parents or with relatives and then a CASA volunteer is appointed. Our role is to make sure that these children move toward a safe, permanent home. It may be with their parents. It may not. CASA volunteers go to every hearing. They go to the child’s school. They meet with foster parents. They meet with the doctors. They get to know that child as well as they can and then they report to the court. Every time there’s a hearing for your child, a CASA volunteer goes and reports to the court. They can speak in court, and they turn in a report to the court. They not only look at the child’s progress but they also look at the parent’s progress toward getting that safe, permanent home back again.

Over half of the kids in foster care are there because of their parents’ addiction.

Many times, foster care is a result of parental actions.

Over half of the kids in foster care are there because of their parents addiction. They are no longer able to take care of their children, they’re no longer managing their lives. These kids come into care at that point. Sometimes with police coming to the home, sometimes they’re at school and they’re removed. They do not see the parents again. If they were in an active meth lab, they’re going to have to go to the hospital for a chemical bath. They can’t take anything with them. If they’re at home, they may be able to pack their own belongings, sometimes in a trash bag, to take with them. If they are at school, they go to that foster placement with whatever is in that backpack that they have with them that day. The good-byes are not really there at that point. Parents are taken away, and the children go on with a social worker to a foster home. It’s very disrupting for children. It’s very frightening. Small children in the back of a police car is something you never really want to see, but it does happen.

Once removed, children deal with incredible amounts of stress.

Most of the children that come into foster care suffer from traumatic stress. They are not usually aware of what’s going on in the home. This is always what they’ve known. This is the way that parents behave. They don’t realize that this shouldn’t be happening, and so they’re shocked and terrified when they are removed from their home. We talk about sitting at your dining room table and having someone knock on the door and a police officer tells you, “So sorry but you have to leave now.” Then takes you out to the car and drives you away. It’s terrifying to these children.

Imagine being a high school student in school and you know your parents have a problem. You’re old enough to have figured that out. But a social worker comes to your class, calls you out, tells you “I’m sorry you have to come with me now, and you’re not going home. We’re going to have to place you somewhere else.” It may be in a different school. For older children, losing that circle of friends is huge. It’s their life. It’s the most important part of their lives at that point, and they lose all that. For a younger child, the bond with the parents is so strong and to lose that, to lose Mommy who’s been with every day of your life is suddenly gone from your life. It’s very stressful and you know that it effects brain growth. It’s a difficult, difficult thing for children to have to endure.

Teenagers struggle the most with foster care situations.

Teenagers have a particularly difficult time staying in a foster homes. By the time our children age out of foster care, if they stay until they’re 18, the average number of homes they’ve been in is at 10. Some of that is because of behavior. They’re not happy. We know teenagers are difficult anyway, but imagine being a teenager placed in a new home every year or so. Imagine being with people who don’t do things the way that you think they should be done. Or who do not allow you to go to the school plays because they don’t think it’s appropriate. You’ve always done that, that’s been a big part of your life. You wanna play football; there’s not a lot of money for football for foster children. All of those after school activities cost money. And the teenagers blame the system, but they also are gonna want to know what’s going on with Mom and Dad. They’ll be in court, hopefully, and they’ll hear the judge say, “I’m sorry, but you haven’t completed your treatment plan. You can’t have your children back.” That’s very difficult for a young person trying to grow up and establish themselves as and adult to see the adults that they trusted not be able to handle something. There’s in some of these children they feeling that “I’m not worth it because Mom can’t do her treatment. I must not be worth much because Dad just can’t stop using drugs.”

…a social worker comes to your class, calls you out, tells you “I’m sorry you have to come with me now, and you’re not going home. We’re going to have to place you somewhere else.”

Visiting parents in prison is also a rough adjustment.

When kids are in foster care or placed with relatives because the parents are in prison because of their drug use, or their selling, or whatever they were doing with illegal substances, the children are allowed to visit. It’s very difficult for these kids. It’s good that they see their parents. They need to know that they’re okay because they worry about that. And they need to see them, but the drive may be a long distance to get to the prison; they’re not always in the community where the child is living. They have family visiting rooms that are, prison officials trying to make it more family-like and home-like with toys and coloring books. Things to allow the families to play while they are there but is ultimately a locked room. The parent is in unfamiliar clothing, and they can’t say good-bye. They can’t walk out the door with the child, and the child doesn’t know when they’ll see them again. It’s not a good situation for anyone. It’s better that they see them, but it’s still very difficult for that child. And watching that child if you go along on a visit, saying good-bye is very painful.

Children in foster care may be permanently placed if parents can’t improve.

One of the pieces that CASA volunteers have to watch and monitor is how long a child stays in foster care. Federal law requires that if a child has been in foster care for 15 out of 22 months, the court has to order a permanency plan, which is a way to find that safe, permanent home for a child. We know staying in foster care for years is damaging to children. It’s not a good home for them long term with the uncertainty that they could move at any moment. So that is a requirement with Federal law, and CASA volunteers have to be aware of that. Parents also need to be aware of that. It’s a ticking time clock on your treatment and on fixing these addiction problems. It’s not gonna change, it’s not flexible. You have to work on your plan if you want to get your children back.

A message of hope.

If I knew someone in my community who was having a substance abuse problem, and I can see them going down to the road that ends with their children being taken away, I would try to sit down and have an honest conversation with them. I would talk to them about what it’s like to be a child and see your parents being taken away in handcuffs by the police. I would talk to them about an older child coming home from school and finding their parent out cold on the couch. I would talk to them about what happens when your child is removed and what that’s like for the child and the continuing problems that ensue because of that. I would also try to talk to them about what’s available to help them. Treatment opportunities in their community. I’d offer my help, and I’d let them know that I’ve see other people conquer this. I’d let them know that their child is worth it, and that they can do it. It’s hard work, but they can do it.

Children can be hit hardest by addiction.

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I’d let them know that their child is worth it, that they can do it. It’s hard work and that they can do it.