When Abusers are Also Victims

The final story of a CASA

By: Trista M. Martinez

Case open: Aug. 17, 2012
Case closed: Feb. 24, 2017

Phyllis Cash emerged as a new volunteer in 1997 (five years after CASA of the Coastal Bend took its very first case), then as CASA of Nueces County. She moved from the Lubbock area with some part-time experience at CPS. Her supervisor suggested looking into CASA after getting settled in Corpus Christi. Further supporting the idea, Cash explains, “I had a difficult upbringing, and I refuse to let others live that way.”

Cash’s case involved four kids in San Patricio County: a 15-year-old daughter, a 10-year-old son with special needs and two daughters at 7 and 8 years old. Mom was a drug user, exposing her children to filth, sexual abuse and medical neglect – often treating her son with her own street drugs in place of appropriate, doctor-prescribed medication.

After her court appointment, Cash quickly found the case to be challenging. “The damage done to the family by drugs is one of the hardest things. There is extensive damage. There will always be a scar.” The teenage daughter had a hard time transitioning into the “different culture” of foster care. She displayed frequent violent outbursts, refused to do schoolwork and was placed in different residential treatment centers. After aging out, she chose to return home. Now 20 years old and with a baby of her own, she struggles with CPS involvement as a mother. She still keeps in touch with Cash and turns to her for emotional support.

The son, who suffers from Klinefelter syndrome, experienced sexual abuse at the hands of his older brother and neighbors. Mom would trade sexual favors for drugs, sometimes in his presence, claiming he “didn’t know what’s going on.” At the age of 10, he couldn’t speak and had never been to school.

While in foster care, he had to be separated from his younger sisters. They became uneasy and eventually afraid of him because of the sexual nature of his behavior learned by his transparent exposure to sex at such an early age. He would act out sexually in foster homes, causing him to spend time in juvenile correctional facilities. Due to medical issues, Cash shared the case with two other CASAs, a couple who took over for his advocacy. Despite his difficulties, he was adopted in December 2016 to a school counselor. At 15 years old, he is happy, healthy and talkative.

The two younger sisters stayed together in foster care, being separated once. After a disagreement between the two, the foster parents decided to remove one of the girls. In a few months’ time, Cash advocated for the sisters to be reunited, and the foster parents took her back. Cash describes both girls as loving and intelligent, so it came as no surprise when, at an adoption picnic, the girls met a Houston couple and it was “love at first sight.” Cash accompanied the girls on visits with the couple until adoption was finalized in the beginning of the 2016-17 school year. Her favorite memory was, “taking them shopping for school clothes with their adoptive parents. They got to pick whatever they wanted!”

Finally, after a slow process, the girls moved to Houston on a Thursday and started school that Monday. They are currently 12 and 14 years old, and Cash feels their adoptive parents are “the most qualified to handle the girls.” She plans to continue keeping in touch, visiting annually and emailing or texting.

In her 20 years as an active CASA and with seven cases under her belt, this case served as her last. Her biggest realization is “abusers are also victims. They were abused themselves.” She says she didn’t do any of this for recognition, but it’s hard not to recognize someone who has given so much time, effort and care to the lives of local foster children. The best part for Cash is “seeing the joy on their faces of knowing they had something to look forward to: a future.”

Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) is a volunteer-based program responding to the needs of children in foster care. CASAs provide a voice for abused and neglected children in school, at home and in the courtroom. For more information on becoming a CASA or for fundraising, please go to www.coastalbendcasa.org or call 361-884-2272.