It’s disturbing, but probably not surprising, that outcomes for youth who age out of foster care are often poor. Studies show that they are at increased risk for homelessness, young parenthood, low educational attainment, high unemployment rates, and other adverse adult outcomes. The good news is that it only takes one person to improve these odds for a young person. If you think that person might be you, read on!
When Shirley Stanton moved to Shepherdstown, WV, she asked the realtor about local volunteer opportunities. The realtor mentioned that she knew court appointed special advocate (CASA) volunteers, but that the work was “too depressing,” Stanton recalled in a recent interview.
She acknowledged that although some days are tough, she always finds something to keep her going, such as working with the guardian ad litem (GAL) or caseworker assigned to the case. “You find other people on the case who surround the kid with positive, loving energy,” she said.
This was true for Stanton’s work on Mariana’s case, which Stanton helped resolve successfully this year. At 17.5 years old, Mariana finally found an adoptive family she is happy with after years of different placements. Among the people Stanton worked with on Mariana’s case were her GAL, probation officer, and therapist.
When Stanton joined the case, Mariana was 15. Mariana had just been charged as a juvenile delinquent and was staying at a detention facility in Ohio. This is just one of several placements Mariana had experienced in her lifetime, including a psychiatric hospital and treatment facilities.
Mariana first encountered the child welfare system when she was adopted by an Eastern Panhandle family at 3 years old. Mariana’s mother was poor and had another seriously ill child to care for, so she had decided to give Mariana up for adoption. “The birth mother did what she could,” Stanton said.
At the time Stanton joined the case, Mariana was in the process of being transitioned back to her adoptive family, but Mariana said she wanted a new family. As part of her work, Stanton suggested Mariana talk to a lawyer, after which point Mariana’s adoptive family agreed to relinquish custody of her. Mariana was adopted by a new family at age 17 and is set to graduate high school this spring.
Throughout Mariana’s case, Stanton tried to think of ways to engage Mariana at times when she couldn’t visit in person, such as when Mariana was at out-of-state facilities. One example was sending Mariana books related to her interest in forensics. Stanton also called Mariana when a facility allowed it and served as a go-between when Mariana needed help reaching someone else involved with the case. Stanton also got support from CASA staff when needed, including from a volunteer supervisor who wasn’t even her supervisor.
“Consistency made the difference,” Stanton said. “You don’t need to spend real money [on a case]. It’s the time to come up with what the kid will respond to.”
Stanton said that when she last talked to Mariana last summer, Mariana was doing all the normal teen things, including working at a restaurant and looking into getting her driver’s license. She is hopeful that Mariana will get to pursue her interest in forensics or the military after graduation. “She seemed perfectly fine and happy,” Stanton said.
Since helping Mariana, Stanton has continued to work on three other cases and may take on a fourth case soon. She typically spends no more than two hours per case per week. “If you pace your cases, you can manage 3-4 cases at a time,” she said. “People should not be intimidated [about volunteering]. You need to be organized and willing to commit.”
Stanton said she starts by taking notes on a case, including timelines and placements. After the first hearing, she has her first few visits with the youth and the people listed in the court order related to the case. Then she gets into the routine of visits with the youth while she works to help resolve the case.
Stanton praised the CASA staff team members for all their support while working with Mariana and she is happy about the role she got to play in changing Mariana’s life. “The rewards are amazing,” Stanton said of her work as a CASA volunteer. “I get to meet people I’d never meet otherwise.”
Visit MyCASAEP.org to learn how you can get involved or make a donation.Staff Contributor