Making a Difference

How CASA helped make positive changes in the lives of five children after parental rights were terminated

By: Kathryn Hyatt

No one I know actively wishes for termination of parental rights at the time a case begins. The court, the investigator and the CPS-assigned caseworker all are hoping the family can be salvaged. The ideal solution is sought to return the children as soon as possible. When it is apparent that return will not be immediate, a CASA is requested by the court to act as guardian ad litem for the child, or children. The CASA serves that function until the case is resolved. Sadly, in some cases, the resolution that is best for the child/children is termination of parental rights. In that event, the CASA stays with the kids until adoption.

Anita, age 26, was a single mother of five children, ages 10 years to 9 months. Although four fathers were identified, Anita had never married. Prior CPS interventions for neglectful supervision had provided about 13 months of family-based social services for Anita and her then paramour. The children remained in the home.

The removal, some six months later, occurred based on a sexual abuse outcry from the oldest child, Maya. The outcry was made at school. It was against the instructions from Anita, who had told Maya not to tell anyone and that she would handle it. The morning of the event precipitating the removal, Anita had returned to the apartment unexpectedly and found Maya and the paramour in bed together. Maya was not clothed. While Anita and the paramour fought, Maya dressed herself for school and started for the bus stop. Anita followed Maya and slapped her across the face because Maya had not told her what was going on.

Foster care for five siblings could not be found, and the siblings were separated. The oldest was a single foster placement. The two next older, both boys, were placed in one local setting. Both were of average intelligence, but low-performing academically and prone to spending part of several days a week in a disciplinary environment. When I met the two youngest children, they were in a foster care setting about three hours separated from where the older siblings were in care.

The 3-year-old, Alissa, was par for her age group with respect to size, but had minimal language skills, except for cursing. In that she was fluent. She was reported to be combative and to have no impulse control. The baby, Joseph, was 9 months. He lay on his back in a crib, awake, but with no movement. He could not turn over. His eyes did not make contact with others. He did not reach out to be held. He was silent.

Though Anita had originally been given overnight visitation, it was quickly rescinded when it was discovered that she had allowed her sex-offender father to move into her apartment. It was determined that termination would be sought against mom and the two remaining fathers. Both of them were in prison. One was imprisoned for the sexual assault of Maya. The other was imprisoned for assault of elderly and carjacking.

The caseworker, the AAL and I agreed that the first step was to get as many of the kids out of foster care as possible. We were able to locate and interview the fathers of the three oldest children. They jumped at the chance to take responsibility for their respective children. Background checks were run. Home inspections were conducted. The children were felt out concerning how they felt about the possibility of living with their dads. After some trial visitations, it was decided that the children could live with the dads until a resolution concerning mom was achieved. When termination was granted, it was determined that the children would stay with their birth dads.

That left the two youngest in foster care. CPS began to immediately search for a more suitable placement. A foster-to-adopt family was found to take both children. The placement was also three hours from where the other siblings lived, but the new foster parents offered to do whatever was necessary for the children to maintain contact. The children all got together biweekly.

The ensuing year in the new environment resulted in changes that every CASA lives and breathes for. With speech therapy and lots of one-on-one time with the new foster parents, Alissa became age appropriate in both language and social skills. Vision testing and corrective lenses resulted in correction of fine motor skill deficiencies. In one year, Joseph went from suspected cerebral palsy accompanied by mild MR to a fully functioning, age-appropriate 2-year-old. And the icing on the cake was that I was privileged to be present at the foster-parent adoption of Joseph and Alissa in Judge Timothy McCoy’s County Court Five.

CASAs make a difference. Become one.

For more information, visit CASA of the Coastal Bend online at www.coastalbendcasa.org.

Photos courtesy of CASA

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