I Want to Go Home

I know my Mom messed up, I’m not stupid. But I’m old enough to know that living at home with my Mom, even though she had her past demons, as my Grandma calls them, is still better than living with strangers. That’s what I’m going to tell the judge next week, I tell myself. I even practice it in the mirror. It’s not that I don’t like the Millers, they are very nice. But they are not Mom and besides, she told me that she is doing really well in her treatment counseling.

HtSF6H_qI’m 16, and until 6 months ago, I lived a normal life with my Mom. I went to school, Mom went to work, and at night we cooked dinner together and sometimes even watched TV. But then Mom started dating a new guy – Don. He was fine at first, nice and polite, but it didn’t take long for things to change.

It wasn’t long after I met Don, that Mom stopped going to work, and stopped caring if I went to school. No longer did we make dinner together, mostly, she was never home at dinnertime or at bedtime. I tried to stay in school and keep up a good story, but I was scared. My Mom was changing and I didn’t know who to trust. I didn’t want Grandma to worry, she was so far away, so I just held it in, until it was too late.

I heard the bang on the door. It was 3am. I knew that Mom and Don had come home, I had heard them earlier, so it wasn’t them. The banging continued, and when it went unanswered, the police came in anyway. Turned out, Don was a drug dealer and was wanted by the police, they had followed him and my Mom that night and were arresting him for distribution.

Mom got caught up in the whole mess. She was not an innocent bystander, she knew what Don was doing, she was using too and she didn’t do anything to stop him or stay away from him. She brought him into our home.

When the police saw me come from my room, they immediately took me outside and asked me if I had any family nearby. “No,” I said. So they called child welfare. That night changed my life.

I was told that I could go inside and grab a few things, my Mom was already in the cop car. It looked like she was handcuffed but they wouldn’t let me talk to her. I could hear her yelling through the door window but didn’t know what she was saying. She looked small and scared, just like I was.

I followed the police instructions and was soon introduced to Janice, the lady who was going to take me to my foster home. The next month I met Alyson, she told me that she was my CASA volunteer. I had no idea what that was, but she explained her role to me and I thought that she was nice. She came to visit me almost every week and after awhile I understood that she was trying to help me and my Mom.

The rest of these months is a blur, but I did my best to remain calm and hopeful that this would all be settled soon. CASA Alyson helped me believe that and gave me the courage to sit here today in this courtroom and tell the judge what I had been practicing in front of the mirror for that last five months.

“Yes your honor,” CASA Alyson had helped me put the right words together. “I would like to go home with my Mother. I know that she messed up, but I also know that she is better now and is ready to be my Mom again.” The judge sighed and I didn’t know if that was a good or bad thing. I looked at Alyson, and she gave me an encouraging nod. I continued, “Your Honor, I know that Mom has been through a lot, and so have I, but I believe that we can make it together, I really want to go home.” Again the judge sighed, “Marissa, I know how hard your Mom has worked to get to this point and how badly you want to go home but I am worried about your safety should Mom have a setback. Can you tell me, if I agree to sending you home, is there anyone who you can call if you need help?”

I smiled, I knew the answer to this question and I hadn’t even practiced it. “Yes, your honor, my CASA Alyson,” and I pointed to Alyson sitting right behind me.

With that, the judge gave me a smile back and said, “Well, Marissa, as long as you and your Mom continue with family counseling and your CASA will agree to be there for you if you need her, you can go home today.”

I was so happy. I didn’t know what to do. I thanked the judge and gave CASA Alyson a big hug and when I got to my Mom, we both cried happy tears, because we were finally going to be a family again.


Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for Children’s mission to speak on behalf of abused and neglected children is central to fulfilling society’s most fundamental obligation to protect a child’s right to be safe, treated with respect and to help them reach their fullest potential. For more information about CASA, visit AtlanticCapeCASA.org.

July 4th Memories

My most vivid childhood memories focus around the Fourth of July. My father would load us in the car and head to Grandma’s for a typical community July Fourth celebration – a big field with rides, games, food and of course fireworks. Luckily, I was never afraid of the loud bangs and wanted to sit as close possible, inevitably being pulled back to safety by my Mom. In those days, the men in the community set off the fireworks and I remember trying to figure out which silhouette was my father running back and forth lighting off the next round to brighten the sky.

I never knew which one was he, but I imagined him as super-human, unafraid of the flames and explosions going on around him and proud that my Dad was strong and brave enough for such a dangerous job.

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These memories still bring me joy today. Joy of a happy childhood with my three siblings, joy in having a Mom and Dad who loved and provided a safe home for us, joy in being part of a community with friends, neighbors, cousins, aunts and uncles all watching out for each other. The comforts that we enjoyed were part of the time that I grew up in – the 70s – before the internet, cell phones, texting, and social media. If you wanted to talk to someone, you called from a phone attached to the wall. In you needed information you opened an encyclopedia or the dictionary. You played, usually outside, in person with kids who also knew the rest of your family. You went to the same church, the same school, the same grocery store, and celebrated and mourned together. My childhood community weaved together like a beautiful mosaic.

What would have become of me if that mosaic frayed? How would my life have changed if a tragedy or challenge had rendered my parents unable to care for us?

I understand that I am lucky to have all of the benefits of growing up in a community and family filled with love. I also know that the privileges that I enjoyed – albeit, still enjoy to this day – are a product of my upbringing, my family, and my community.

I also know that not all children have the same advantages.

Many children will never know the joy of their father’s bravery or the security of an extended family. They will not understand what it means to be part of a community that is larger than they are, or know the unconditional love that protects you when you sit too close to the fireworks.

For these children, abuse, neglect and abandonment have taught them instead of love. In place of being cared for, they are often the caregivers, tending to their younger siblings or a parent suffering with substance abuse.

But, we cannot sit idle and let their challenges define them. We must help give hope to children who have suffered by becoming mentors, coaches, and advocates.

We can still teach traumatized children love and offer support. We can guide them in ways that they may never have experienced and with that encouragement, they too can look back on their childhood with joy. Joy that someone cared for them, joy that at their most challenging time an adult stepped in and pulled them back from getting to close to the fireworks.


Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for Children’s mission to speak on behalf of abused and neglected children is central to fulfilling society’s most fundamental obligation to protect a child’s right to be safe, treated with respect and to help them reach their fullest potential. For more information about CASA, visit AtlanticCapeCASA.org.

Caring for Children- A Short History of Foster Care

Right now 437,000 children and youth, as young as infants and as old as 21 years of age, are living in foster care across our nation due to abuse, neglect, or worse. Leaving their home is a traumatic experience, one that will affect their whole life in ways that those of us who never spent a day in foster care can ever imagine.

We may think of foster care as a modern concept, but in fact, caring for others’ children dates back to the earliest days, with references even found in ancient religious texts. Some surrogate families, in early accounts, were even compensated for looking after children who lost their parents, possibly to famine, accidents or early death.

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Taking in children in these early days can be seen as act of kindness, but the earliest laws allowed impoverished children to become apprentices, often remaining in “service” until they became of age. According to Adoption.org, the first instance of this form of “foster-servitude” in this country was traced to a seven-year-old boy who lived in the nation’s first colony of Jamestown in 1636.

By the mid-19th century, American philanthropist and social reformer Charles Loring Brace, considered the father of the modern-day foster care movement, established the Orphan Trains and founded the Children’s Aid Society. The Orphan Trains, remarkably, relocated 200,000 abused, abandoned, and homeless children from Eastern cities to foster homes in the Midwest between 1854 and 1929 – mostly with little or no follow-up to see how the children were doing or being treated.

Slowly, federal and state government began to recognize the importance of ensuring children’s safety with their surrogate families and began licensing and approving families before placing children with them. By 1935, the federal government passed the Social Security Act which included grants to child welfare agencies and for foster home inspections, essentially establishing what we know as the modern-day foster care system.

Some key federal laws were initiated and passed after 1935, including the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment and Adoption Reform Act of 1978, the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997, and the Foster Care Independence Act of 1999, to name a few. One of the biggest federal child welfare reforms, however, did not come until 1980, with the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act. This Act established procedural guidelines, including court reviews, within the foster care system.

Right in the middle of those early laws, a family court judge in Seattle Washington established the Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program in 1976. While sitting as a judge in juvenile court, Judge David Soukup, “realized that there was no one in the courtroom whose only job was to provide a voice for those children. It struck me that it might be possible to recruit and train volunteers to investigate a child’s case so they could provide a voice for the child in those proceedings, proceedings which could affect their whole lives.” Judge Soukup’s founding of the CASA program, and CASA’s expansion across the country has, like many federal laws, improved the lives of the thousands of foster youth.

In 2018, nearly 40 years after the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act, child welfare changed radically again with the Family First Prevention Services Act. This Act, the most extensive and dramatic overhaul of the foster care system to date, prioritized keeping families together by providing funding, resources, services, and limiting institutional settings for youth.

If history repeats itself, we may have to wait another 40 years for major child welfare reform – and too many children need our help now.

The foster care system, and our society, look much different from the days of the Orphan Trains but the fact remains that families, just like those in the 1850’s, struggle with an array of challenges including addiction and mental health.

While foster families, the courts and child welfare professionals are critical foster care partners, individuals can also play a role in safeguarding a successful future for foster youth by getting involved with organizations that support children and families. By becoming a mentor or a CASA volunteer, donating services or goods to youth living in care, or lending a helping-hand to a foster parent or caregiver, you become part of a community whose sole purpose is providing comfort, guidance and encouragement to future generations.

Our supportive work with youth now ensures that no matter how long we have to wait for the next child welfare reform, the children and youth who need us now will not be left behind.


Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for Children’s mission to speak on behalf of abused and neglected children is central to fulfilling society’s most fundamental obligation to protect a child’s right to be safe, treated with respect and to help them reach their fullest potential. For more information about CASA, visit AtlanticCapeCASA.org.

 

References
History Of Foster Care In The United States https://nfpaonline.org/page-1105741
When Did Foster Care Start? https://adoption.org/foster-care-start
Act for the Relief of the Poor 1601 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Act_for_the_Relief_of_the_Poor_1601
Orphan Train https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orphan_Train
Charles Loring Brace https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Loring_Brace

Foster Parenting as a Career

Although controversial, the idea of treating fostering as a full-time paid position, is gaining in popularity. A handful of governments are experimenting with this idea. In 2016 Illinois implemented a pilot program with professional foster parents. Parts of Texas started using professional foster parents in 2017.

Increasingly, children come into foster care with serious behavioral and mental issues. These issues require intensive training and understanding.

Jill Duerr Berrick, professor at the School of Social Welfare at UC – Berkley, states that the idea emerged from a realization that some foster children have extreme needs. Also, over the past 70 years, the number of foster homes have declined significantly. Two parent homes, with a stay at home wife, is no longer the norm as it was in the 1950’s.

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Berrick states “professionalizing foster care isn’t just about the money. It means you’ve been thoughtfully trained and supported to do a good job.”

Retention rates are low for foster parenting. In fact, a study of over 5,000 foster parents showed a 30-50% of foster parents quit within the first 18 months. Half of those cited lack of support and training.

Controversial? Yes. Many believe fostering should remain altruistic. “Kids know the difference between a job and not a job,” Tracey Field is the director/manager of the Child Welfare Strategy Group for the Annie E. Casey Foundation. She feels this model, “really reimagines foster care – but not in a good way.”

Professional foster parents usually foster the children with serious mental, emotional or behavioral issues. In Milwaukee’s Professional Foster Care Program, these children have many appointments throughout the week. This requires a full-time commitment from the foster parent; they cannot hold another job and still support the child’s needs.

Some children feel they are just cash cows when any money is involved. Others feel differently. Heavenly Morrow, lived with professional foster parents in Milwaukee from age 16 – 17; she stated she never felt like her foster parents were in it for the money.

 


Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for Children’s mission to speak on behalf of abused and neglected children is central to fulfilling society’s most fundamental obligation to protect a child’s right to be safe, treated with respect and to help them reach their fullest potential. For more information about CASA, visit AtlanticCapeCASA.org.