Substance Abuse — The Thief that Robs Parent from Child

What do we really want for our children? We want them to grow into kind, functioning adults who are joyful, find their purpose and ultimately contribute to society. Easy stuff right? Under the best of circumstances, that’s a pretty tall order.

sadchildParents will do whatever it takes to help their children reach these goals. It can be challenging. For starters, kids need safety and security and food and shelter. But also important are clothing, medical care, heat in cold climates, lessons in hygiene, boundary setting, emotional support, socializing. The list goes on and on. But love and consistency are at the center of developing a young child, born full of potential, into a healthy adult.

But what if, as a parent, you don’t have the all the tools you need? What if you realize the big job ahead of you? What if you get scared? Or you don’t have the best coping skills? What if drugs or alcohol gave you relief? Or, you thought it did.

Enter substance abuse into a family, and even a child’s most basic needs are at risk.

Though each child’s experience will vary, most children of parents who suffer from substance abuse face a myriad of issues that affect the child’s entire life:

A parent might not come home at night, leaving the children to fend for themselves;

Mom cannot keep promises and may not even remember a promise was made;

Dad may have trouble keeping a job and struggle with paying bills, providing food or medical care;

Mom cannot help with homework, prepare meals or provide lessons in personal hygiene.

Consider this child, a child of a parent who suffers from substance abuse and you can imagine him going to school hungry, perhaps unwashed, in unclean and poor fitting clothes with incomplete homework. He or she, most likely on top of all that they endure at home, will experience teasing and bullying at school. He or she, most likely, has no coping skills to deal with the day they’ve been given.

Add family fights, neglect and emotional or physical abuse, and that’s a recipe that can lead to a child or children being removed from their home and placed into foster care.

Foster care can isolate a child, preventing them from forming healthy relationships with their peers. We can hope their teacher offers kindness instead of a reprimand for incomplete homework. Hopefully, the cafeteria server sees a hungry child and gives an extra helping and offers a smile. But in spite of the kindness offered, the feeling of hopelessness is a natural response to being removed from their home, and even though it is through no fault of their own, the child feels responsible for tearing the family apart.

With all that suffering placed on their small shoulders, the child begins to lose focus at school, they act out, they cannot see a future for themselves. All too often, they feel lost, confused and voiceless.

Fortunately, for a child living in foster care, their hope, their voice comes in the form of a CASA volunteer. A CASA volunteer may be the only compassionate, consistent adult in that child’s precarious life. One single bond from a caring adult can give hope to a child who deserves joy and the opportunity to reach their potential. One single bond can save a child’s life.

CASA volunteers are trained in the complicated issues of families dealing with substance abuse. A CASA volunteer can help guide families to the resources and the support they need to help break the cycle of substance abuse, get their family back together and ensure another child, another family, is given the opportunity to thrive.

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Being the Voice for an Infant Living in Foster Care

When CASA Volunteer Teresa first read David’s case file more than two years ago, she was horrified. David was sexually abused by his mother as an infant, and the Division removed him from her care when he was just six months old. Though shocked, Teresa did not hesitate to take on the case in her new role as a CASA.

“Right away, I thought, someone has to save this kid so he didn’t end up back there. If [sexual abuse] is already starting at that young of an age, I could only imagine how much worse it could get,” Teresa said. “I couldn’t even imagine someone doing that to their own child, especially at that age.”

In addition to the abuse by David’s mother, the mother’s boyfriend was previously charged with receiving child pornography, for which he was incarcerated, and he had received probation for having alcohol in the presence of an underage girl. He was perpetuating the mother’s sexual abuse toward David.

In the United States, the children most likely to be abused or neglected are younger than 18-months-old, and 80% of children who die from abuse are younger than four-years-old.

Teresa understands how important it is to advocate for foster children in this age group.

“They can’t speak for themselves; most of them are just learning to speak, and they don’t know what’s right or what’s wrong,” she explained. “They just want someone to love them and pay attention to them. If their parents aren’t the right ones for them, they may not know that. They need someone to be their voice.”

When David was removed from his mother’s home, he was placed in foster care with a very nice woman, and he stayed with her for more than two years. During that time, Teresa made sure that David was receiving the appropriate care at his foster home and that he had access to services that would ensure his continued safety and growth.

Teresa was always very happy with the foster mother; she took good care of David and shared Teresa’s understanding of advocacy, and the need to keep David healthy. Once David was in his foster mother’s care for a year, Teresa advocated to the court that he continue living there until permanency was established.

“From the beginning, if she saw anything, she would always fight for what he needed, medical-wise,” Teresa explained of the foster mother. “[David] had ear infections often, so his speech was delayed because it was affecting his hearing. So she pushed to get him to a specialist. She continued to push for his best interest in helping him reach his full potential.” Teresa also supported David by recommending these services through her reports to the court.

David was flourishing in his foster home. He was reaching his developmental milestones on time, he appeared happy during CASA visits, and he did well in daycare while his foster mother was at work.

“Every time I would go visit, David was always very affectionate [with his foster mother] and would go over and hug her and kiss her. You could tell from very early on that there was a bond,” Teresa said.

David’s foster mother had been very interested in adopting him for a long time, and Teresa felt that she would be a great fit for David. David’s mother has been in jail during his entire stay in foster care, and she signed paperwork to relinquish her parental rights. When potential placements with David’s grandparents and father were ruled out by the Division, David was finally able to be adopted by his foster mother.

Teresa was assigned to this case in early 2011, and David’s adoption took place just last month. We are so glad David had a dedicated CASA like Teresa and that he now has a forever family!

Teresa is one of over 200 CASA Volunteers in Atlantic and Cape May Counties fighting for the rights of children living in foster care. CASA is central to fulfilling society’s most fundamental obligation by making sure a qualified, compassionate adult will fight for and protect a child’s right to be safe, to be treated with dignity and respect and to learn and grow in the safe embrace of a loving family. Join the Movement by calling CASA today at (609) 601-7800.

CASA Volunteer Jonas Akpassa Goes Above and Beyond in Advocating for a Child

Every week, Jonas travels an hour and twenty minutes—one way—to visit the boy he advocates for as a CASA. When speaking with Jonas last week, he mentioned that he had just made an extra trip to visit his CASA child, Michael, age 14, because he had gotten into a fight with another student at school. The distance is never a problem for Jonas—he has to do this work, he said. Even if that means showing up to Michael’s school more than once a week.

“He hurts. He’s 14; it’s not like he’s five or six and doesn’t understand,” said Jonas of Michael’s experiences.

Before Michael was sent to the youth shelter about eight months ago, he had regularly been a victim of corporal punishment. Michael’s father has not been involved in his life in the last five years, and he was living with his mother and her paramour. The couple used force with Michael. As Michael’s misbehavior increased, so did the violent punishments, and vice versa. Michael’s mother ultimately called the Division to take him away. She informed them that she was scared of her son for acting out violently toward her.

However, since arriving at the youth shelter, Michael has been participating in individual and group therapy and is already showing much improvement with his behavior. He is also enjoying school and receiving good grades.

When Jonas first met Michael at the youth shelter, he was very quiet. But Jonas did not mind.

“It’s ok. You sit over there; I’ll sit over here,” Jonas told him, not planning on leaving right away. When it was time to depart, Jonas told Michael that he would be seeing more of him.

By the second or third visit, Michael was surprised. “I didn’t expect you,” he said.

“Well, you’re going to start getting used to it because you’re going to see me all the time,” Jonas said. Michael started laughing, and he began talking about sports and asked about Jonas’ life.

Being patient and consistent helped break the silence, and Jonas said showing Michael respect was most important.

“We all want respect; we all deserve respect. I personally think he doesn’t get that at home.” He added, “I honestly believe it’s not what we say; it’s how we say it. You have to get down to [the child’s] level of thinking for them to understand what you’re saying. Otherwise, they’re not going to listen.”

When it came to discussing Michael’s altercation with another student, Jonas was blunt with him.

“I have to put everything on the table,” Jonas said. “I told him straight up, ‘You can’t do that.’ You have to look at him straight in the face and say there are certain things you cannot do.” He then asked Michael why he hit the other student.

“I don’t know,” he said.

Jonas told Michael that he has to learn how to walk away from a student who is making him upset.

“Go to the library; give your teacher a hand, so you can walk away,” Jonas suggested, after speaking with Michael’s guidance counselor and teachers regarding the situation. His teachers are now aware of this plan, so if they see Michael walking toward the library, they know he is leaving a negative situation.

With each visit to Michael’s school, Jonas makes it a point to speak with his guidance counselor and see how things are going. What’s more, Michael knows to go straight to the guidance counselor’s office when he needs someone to talk to, and he enjoys speaking with her.

However, Michael often thinks about his family.

“He’s worried about his mom. He wants to be with his mom, but she doesn’t want to be a part of his life… she doesn’t call him, not even on his birthday,” Jonas explained.

Jonas encourages Michael to try looking on the bright side. “Tomorrow is always another day.”

When Jonas finally got Michael’s mother on the phone one day, he had a question for her.

“Why is everyone fighting for your son and you’re not? What can be that bad?” Jonas asked her.

She was quiet during the first few minutes of the phone call and then revealed that she is afraid of her son.

Reflecting back on this phone conversation, Jonas thought, “This kid is actually sitting back here worried about [his mother] and his other siblings.”

Michael does have grandparents in the area, and he speaks to his grandmother every month. His grandparents would love to adopt him. However, they are a bit concerned about his behavior. Jonas said the grandparents wonder if Michael’s behavior will revert.

In a couple of months, Jonas said a decision should be made for Michael. Regardless of what happens, Jonas is not giving up on him.

“I’m here. We can do this. We can make this happen,” Jonas told him.

Jonas is one of the over 170 CASA Volunteers in Atlantic and Cape May Counties fighting for the rights of children living in foster care. CASA is central to fulfilling society’s most fundamental obligation by making sure a qualified, compassionate adult will fight for and protect a child’s right to be safe, to be treated with dignity and respect and to learn and grow in the safe embrace of a loving family. Join the Movement by calling CASA today at (609) 601-7800.