Updated: May 17
By Adrienne Cox
As a CASA volunteer, I was part of an all-volunteer army dedicating themselves to children using a 1:1 advocacy model that works. Volunteer advocates like me put in extraordinary hours to help kids find permanent homes and get critical services. Our assessment and written recommendations in DC’s Family Court often shed new light on the child’s life and lead to concrete changes. Ultimately, this work can mean more services for the child, less time in foster care, and a safe, permanent, loving home. This vital work is going on now, every day in our community. Unheralded, and often quiet, few in our area know what CASA volunteers do moment by moment. Like other volunteers, I would depart my neighborhood and cross the river into another world. The child I was assigned, Jeron*, lived in tough circumstances. Unlike his siblings, young Jeron was in a foster group home and longed to see his family. I could feel his ache and struggled as a mother myself to understand. At nine, Jeron began a bewildering journey when his mother left him and his siblings in a small apartment for several months. After a while, local authorities noted neglect and the foster care system assumed his care. Though he was the youngest, he was the only one in care; social workers had placed his siblings with aunts, uncles and cousins. My journey to work with him began then, and continues.
Nine years old is too young to be able to process acute chaos or understand a parent’s action. All he knew was that he wanted to join her, of course. Inwardly, I couldn’t imagine leaving my children, and grieved mightily for him. There was an emotional ocean between us, and I was determined to make a difference.
At times, I could not help feeling we were on different emotional planets. At night, I tucked my kids into bed after stories and goodnight hugs. Before bed, I saw Tray’s sister write a social media post that said, “Goodnight, my Facebook family.” That post melted my heart, and strengthened my resolve even further to help this family. The work of a CASA volunteer inevitably involves many folks in a child’s orbit, sisters, brothers, teachers, and the parents. I visited not only Jeron, but interviewed teachers, prepared reports, and went to court to make recommendations for his future.
When I entered the courtroom with my report at scheduled hearings for Tray, joining the lawyers, social workers and others, the judge looked a bit relieved. The judge knew that the court would get a whole picture of the child, whether it was his actions in and feelings about school, after-school activities, relationships with family and friends, and much more. In the end, my advocacy led to tangible, new services and opportunities for Jeron and extra support. I also created a series of moments for him and his family with some festivities, birthday moments, tutoring, and even art supplies for a young life. The thread running through those deeds was my devotion to him, and desperate longing for him to heal.