19-year-old Joelle was first placed in foster care in 2017, due to her mother’s substance use and domestic violence. Home was not a safe place for Joelle. A CAC volunteer advocate started working with Joelle at that time.
Since then, the CAC volunteer advocate has watched Joelle graduate from high school and helped her achieve her goal of attending college and securing her first job.
When schools and businesses were forced to close due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Joelle’s classes at Norwalk Community College were cancelled and she immediately lost her waitressing job. Joelle was living temporarily with a friend, but now, with no family willing to take her in, and no income, Joelle is staying indefinitely on her friend’s couch. Because she lost her job, she is also unable to afford phone calls with her mother, who is currently incarcerated.
Overnight, Joelle lost everything that she worked so hard to achieve. While businesses and schools continue to be closed, Joelle's CAC volunteer advocate is a consistent supportive adult presence while Joelle struggles to navigate this uncertain time. The CAC volunteer advocate is working to help Joelle file for unemployment benefits, and is helping Joelle make decisions that will keep her safe and healthy. Most importantly, the CAC volunteer advocate is an encouraging, supportive and calming voice while Joelle’s world is temporarily upside down.
Jane's Story - COVID-19 emergency needs
A CAC volunteer advocate began working with Jane when she was six. Jane is now a highly active 9-year-old child. Jane’s grandmother, Mary, became her legal guardian in 2015 after Jane’s mother relapsed and was unable to maintain her sobriety and safely care for Jane. Jane’s father is unknown and her grandmother was the only family member available to care for her. Mary is in her 70’s and suffers from rheumatoid arthritis and anxiety. Jane was recently diagnosed with ADHD and is under the care of a therapist and a psychiatrist for medication monitoring to address her diagnosis. Jane has a 504-plan at school to provide social and emotional support to help address her impulse control and emotional outbursts. Over time, the volunteer advocate developed a strong relationship with Jane, Mary and their service providers.
When schools and non-essential businesses were first closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all of Jane’s supportive services were immediately unavailable or inaccessible. Since that time, her CAC volunteer advocate has been in contact with Jane’s teacher, therapist, mentor and psychiatrist. She immediately helped Jane secure a Chromebook through her school, and also helped her to connect virtually to her therapist so they can continue their weekly sessions. She has also helped arrange for weekly video chats between Jane and her mentor and another good friend, in an effort to give Mary a little reprieve. The volunteer’s hard work has helped to take some of the burden off of Mary at a time when she is feeling very overwhelmed and anxious. Jane’s well-being depends on Mary's well-being and so during this public health emergency, the volunteer is working to find creative ways to support them both to help this family get through this extremely trying time.
Lucas was removed from his mother at age four. She had physically and emotionally abused him, and relinquished her own parental rights. Lucas moved from foster home to foster home for almost ten years, acting out and running away until he found himself in a psychiatric facility for children with serious emotional disturbances with few options for his future.
That’s when volunteer Connie was assigned to Lucas’s case. Lucas was 14 by then; the facility was his 19th placement. The judge hoped that with a volunteer advocate, Lucas could find his voice and a way out of the foster care system.
Connie began visiting Lucas. He wouldn’t talk. Connie broke the silence by playing chess. They would play chess and Lucas wouldn’t talk much. But as Connie kept showing up, Lucas learned to trust her. Over the next several months, Lucas’s coping and communication skills improved. His behaviors improved and the social worker grew hopeful about his chance to be fostered again.
With Connie by his side, encouraging and reminding him of his worth and the importance of advocating for himself, Lucas left the facility and headed to a new foster family—his 20th placement. Things were different this time. From the beginning, Lucas communicated better and felt as if he fit in with his new parents and siblings. The family worked hard to help him adjust. Connie and Lucas’s foster parents were beaming in the courtroom beside him when the goal of adoption by his new foster parents was approved. After over a decade in care, Lucas found a family.
When a CASA volunteer advocate was first assigned to his case in January 2016, Mark was a 10-year-old boy who had been neglected by his mother and had been sexually abused. He was placed in a therapeutic foster home for boys with difficult behavioral problems, emotional disturbances, sexual abuse issues, and/or learning disabilities. Once a month, the CASA volunteer would drive two hours each way to visit Mark. Sometimes when she arrived Mark would tell her that he did not want to see her. She would say that was fine and that she would be back next month. At first, Mark was surprised when she would arrive the next month as she had said that she would. Mark eventually realized that no matter what he said or did, he could count on her to be there for him.
After two years, Mark’s highly disruptive behavior was not improving and he was moved to two different foster homes. His CASA volunteer continued to visit with him regularly and to work with his therapists, DCF, other professionals, and his family to determine how to best help Mark. She worked hard to maintain open lines of communication among all the providers and family. Slowly but surely, Mark made great strides.
In the meantime, Mark’s mother worked very hard to improve herself. She became clean and sober, obtained and maintained a job, and attended parenting classes and family therapy.
This summer, everyone agreed that it was time for Mark to return to his mother’s care. Mark’s mother was ready and able to parent him with outside support as needed and Mark was healthy and ready to return to the community. When the Judge ordered that Mark’s commitment to DCF be revoked, there were tears and hugs in the courtroom.
Samantha assumed the role of a parent at a very early age. Her mother - consumed by her addiction to alcohol and drugs - was seldom home to take care of Sam and her four siblings. From early childhood, it was up to Sam to bathe and dress the other children, get them to day care, and do the grocery shopping. Many days Sam did not make it to school.
When Sam was 12 years old, all five children were taken into foster care and placed in different homes. “I worried a lot about my brothers and sisters. I wasn’t waking them up in the morning, wasn’t tucking them in at night... I had a lot of hope in the beginning that my mother would change. I thought, maybe she’ll stay clean, maybe she’ll come visit us. It was hard for me to give up on her, to give up on that hope, and move on with my life.”
Over the next five years Sam had several foster placements and received treatment in residential treatment facilities. But through it all, Sam had the steady support of someone she could confide in, her volunteer advocate. “ Having someone there consistently for the last five years, telling me that everything was going to be OK, someone who was not going to give up on me like my mother had, made all the difference in my life.”
Today, Sam is on her way to receiving her high school diploma, the first step toward pursuing her dream of becoming a police officer.
Though her siblings are now living with family members throughout the country, they stay in close touch.
My three sisters and I suffered just about every form of abuse you can imagine - emotional and physical attacks by my mother, later sexual abuse by her and her boyfriend. When I was 12 years old, we were all removed from our home. After that, I bounced around, from a foster home to an aunt’s house, then back to another foster home. There was so much I did not know about the foster care system. Without knowledge or the power to speak up, I felt like a victim.
Soon after, I met my CASA volunteer and everything changed. My CASA taught me how to communicate, how to represent myself and my needs. He helped me understand what was happening in court and taught me how to stand up for myself.
When I had something to say, my CASA made sure my voice was heard. When I did not want to or could not speak, he spoke for me. At every school event, my CASA was there. From sporting events to my high school graduation, he was there. When I took hold of my diploma, I heard his cheers above the rest.
About that same time, I was placed into my final foster home, where I learned about service to others. From that moment on I decided that there was much that I need to give back.
My CASA taught me that if you have a voice, there is someone who is willing to listen to it and to try to make change.
I’ve been given a powerful voice. I intend to use it as much as I can, for as long as I can.