The below story was taken from Channel 5 News In Lincoln Nebraska.
Most of us cherish our childhood memories. Pictures of family vacations and special occasions fill our photo albums. But for some, those albums are empty and those childhood memories, well they’d rather forget.
We’re talking about abused and neglected kids.
We hear about them so often in the news. But what happens to them after they’re taken out of the home?
Through the story of a Lincoln woman who grew up in Harvard, News Five’s Rachel Lake shows us how a central Nebraska program makes the system less scary. It’s all part of her special report, A Voice for the Children.
Young and beautiful with a corner office in downtown Lincoln and a career on the rise, Jessica Hilderbrand seems to have it all.
“It’s kind of like a fairy tale,” said Hilderbrand.
But at one time, it seemed she had nothing and no one.
Jessica suffered years of abuse and neglect at the hands of her stepfather and mother. At 15, the state took her into custody.
“It was very traumatic I was very fearful that I would never see my brothers,” Hilderbrand said.
As the state began an investigation into her home life, Jessica was placed in foster care.
“Going into somebody’s home, sleeping in their bed with their pillows, it’s a lot to take in as a teenager,” said Hilderbrand.
But then Jessica met Beth Wissing, her Court Appointed Special Advocate or CASA.
“She was just a quiet girl, she was scared. I found out her story,” said Wissing.
And she got to know Jessica’s wants, needs and interests. They met regularly. Afterwards, Beth related her assessments to the judge in court reports.
Beth also accompanied Jessica to court hearings – an intimidating place for the young girl, but Beth stood by her side, serving as a voice and protector.
“One of the things that her and my foster mom did was… I was still scared of my Mom’s husband and so they would make sure that we walked into the courtroom after they did which helped relieve my fear and insecurities,” said Hilderbrand.
Based on Beth’s recommendation, the judge chose not to allow Jessica to return home. So she stayed in the system, switching caseworkers and therapists. But her CASA stayed the same.
“We are able to take one case at a time, one sibling group at a time and just advocate for them until their case is dismissed or that they have some permanency in her life,” said Wissing.
Then Jessica aged out of the system and suddenly she was on her own.
“It was kind of taking somebody who had the structuring and giving them a ton of freedom and I didn’t know how to handle all that freedom,” said Hilderbrand. “I experienced homelessness, I lived in my car for a while. I experienced bad relationships, I went to college and dropped out.”
Finally Jessica turned to Beth for help who referred her to the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation.
After completing an internship, Jessica was offered a full-time job.
“The very first thing I did was pick up the phone and I called Beth,” Hilderbrand.
“Jessica now has turned into such a wonderful and amazing girl that’s doing such positive things in our state for kids in foster care,” Wissing said.
Jessica helps youth transition out of foster care through existing programs.
“I get to build off the personal experience I had being in the foster care system and also working with young people to give them hope and to let them know that their voice matters and that their life experience matters,” said Hilderbrand.
Jessica is now a mother herself and says she’s excited to give her daughter the life she never had. Click here to view the full article.
CASA volunteers have such an impact on children’s lives. Donating your time, just 4 to 10 hours a month, you too could impact someone’s life like Beth did for Jessica. Find out how.