Emily’s Story: A Year in the Life of a Foster Child

PART 2: Changes

READ: PART 1 | PART 2 | PART 3 | PART 4 | PART 5 | PART 6 | PART 7 | PART 8 | PArt 9 | Part 10 | PART 11 | PART 12

Maria, Emily’s CASA Volunteer:

After my first CASA case ended, I couldn’t wait to start my next one. I got right back into it and I finally met my new CASA kid the other day! Her name is Emily, and she’s 11 years old. We didn’t get to talk for very long, and she was pretty shy – but if I were in her position, I probably would be, too, especially considering everything she’s been through in such a short period of time. None of this is easy on her, and I know that. I’m hopeful that she will start to open up more as we get to know each other better. I just have to show her I’m not going anywhere.

A few days later, I went to court for the adversary hearing in Emily’s case. I reported on my meeting with Emily, and let the judge know that her foster home seems safe, and that she is starting to adjust to her new school. Her caseworker spoke too, and recommended that Emily remain in her current foster home for the time being. I also met Emily’s attorney, and invited her to come with me to meet Emily at our next visit.

It was a pretty short hearing, but I could tell all of it was upsetting and hard to hear for Emily’s mother… having a judge tell you that your child isn’t safe in your home, and might never get to come back, has to be devastating. The good news is that she seems willing to do whatever it takes to get Emily back, so we’ll be working with CPS to develop a plan. I hope we get the chance to speak with her father soon to see how involved he will be in the case for Emily’s sake.

We have a long road ahead of us, but I’m going to do everything I can to help get Emily home safe.

Emily:

I got to see my mom a couple of days ago. I didn’t get to go home, though – I had to sit with her in an office with my caseworker in the room. I told her I missed her and asked her when I’d get to come home. She looked at the caseworker and said she didn’t know. I told her I was sorry, but she said I didn’t have anything to be sorry for… maybe this wasn’t all my fault.

Dad wasn’t there. I didn’t ask why.

Later that week, a woman came to visit me at my foster home. She told me her name was Maria, and that she was my CASA volunteer. We talked for a little bit about my new school, and how I felt about my foster home. She asked me about my sword too, but I didn’t tell her about the dragons. She said she’d be back to visit again soon.

But after that, something must have happened… because a few days later, my caseworker told me to pack up my things because I had to leave. I still don’t really understand what’s going on, why I had to move again, and why I can’t just go home – and nobody wants to explain it to me. I’m tired of new places, new dragons, and new people asking me questions and trying to tell me what to do. If it’s not all my fault, then why does this keep happening to me?

I just want everything to stop changing.


What’s happening?

When we last saw Emily, she had just been removed from her home and placed in the foster care system. Since then, a lot has happened very quickly. Let’s fill in the gaps.

1. Emily has been appointed an attorney and a CASA volunteer. At the show cause hearing, the very first hearing in the case when the judge initially granted the CPS Investigator permission to remove Emily, the judge also appointed an attorney ad litem (AAL) and a guardian ad litem (GAL) to represent her. The AAL’s role is to advocate for what the child wants, and the GAL is charged with representing the child’s best interests. In some cases, the AAL serves in both roles. In many jurisdictions, however, the court appoints a separate GAL – often the child’s CASA volunteer.

CASA volunteers are everyday community members that are specially trained and appointed by judges to advocate for a foster child in court, in school and in other settings. CASA volunteers can be appointed at any time during the CPS process – in Emily’s case, her volunteer, Maria, was appointed at the show cause hearing. While most CASA volunteers are appointed as the child’s GAL, some serve as an independent, third-party “friend of the court.” Regardless, all CASA volunteers advocate for the best interests of the child they serve.

You can visit BecomeACASA.org for more information about what CASA volunteers do. We will dive further into Maria’s role as Emily’s case progresses.

2. Emily saw her mother for the first time since she was removed from home. According to current Texas law, CPS must arrange for parents to have the opportunity to visit their child no later than five days after the child enters state custody, as long as there are no significant safety issues or a court order prohibiting visitation. Generally, the first visit is supervised by a CPS caseworker. After that, CPS works with the parents to create a visitation schedule that will have varying limits and levels of supervision depending on the circumstances of the case. Later on, CPS or the judge may grant unsupervised visits if the parents complete needed services and show that the child can be with them safely.

For more information on visitation, you can refer to the chapter on visitation in the Children’s Commission Parent Resource Guide.

3. The adversary hearing has taken place. In all cases involving the removal of a child, the state files a suit affecting the parent-child relationship. This civil lawsuit was filed against both of Emily’s parents at the beginning of the case. The parents are notified of the lawsuit and given notice of the adversary hearing, the second hearing in the case.

By law, the adversary hearing must be held within 14 days of the child being removed from the home, unless the court finds cause to grant an extension of the removal. The purpose of the adversary hearing is to:

  • determine whether the removal was warranted,
  • determine whether continued out-of-home placement is required, and
  • obtain temporary orders for the protection of the child pending resolution of the lawsuit, if continued out-of-home placement is required.

Additionally, as the party asking to restrict a parent’s rights to a child, DFPS has the burden to prove that the initial removal and continued conservatorship of the child are warranted.

In Emily’s case, her mother attended the adversary hearing, but her father did not. Various advocates in the child’s life are also present at this hearing, such as the child’s CPS conservatorship caseworker, the child’s attorney (AAL), and the CASA volunteer/GAL. They report to the judge and provide preliminary information about whether they believe the child should stay in care, or can be returned home safely. After hearing the evidence and reviewing the circumstances of the case, the judge may decide to:

  • Close the case and return the child home outright,
  • Return the child home with monitored family reunification services, or
  • Grant CPS continued managing conservatorship over the child if the home is deemed too unsafe to return.

The judge also notifies the parent(s) present that they have the right to an attorney, and if they are unable to afford one, one will be appointed by the court. Lastly, the judge informs the parent(s) that “parental and custodial rights and duties may be subject to restriction or to termination unless the parent or parents are willing and able to provide the child with a safe environment.”

In Emily’s case, the judge ordered option three: that CPS retain conservatorship, and she remain in her foster home for the time being.

4. Emily has moved to another foster home.

Just when Emily seemed to be adjusting to her foster home and her new school, the rug was pulled out from under her again.

There are a variety of reasons foster placements can be disrupted – sometimes foster parents experience a family emergency or need to relocate. Other times, the child’s behaviors or needs might be more draining than the foster family expected, or there might be an allegation of abuse or neglect within the home and the home might be under investigation. Typically, a foster placement must give 30 days’ notice if they can no longer care for the child, but in Emily’s case, everything happened very suddenly due to an unexpected death in the family. Regardless of the reason for the disruption, or the amount of explanation given to the child, each placement move has a negative toll. Multiple moves are traumatic and can have a devastating impact on a child’s self-esteem, and their ability and willingness to attach to and build trust with the adults in their lives. Additionally, the more a foster child moves placements, the more likely they are to fall behind in school.

“If you’ve never fought a dragon, then you wouldn’t understand. You can’t just leave. You can’t just run. A dragon will always find you. A dragon will always hurt you. And the more a dragon wants you… the less anyone else will.

All of this happened within the first couple of weeks of Emily entering state care. In Part 3, we will be diving in to the development of Emily and her family’s service plan, the 60-day status hearing and more.

Tune in next month for the next part of Emily’s story.*

*This is a fictional story based on real-life situations that many children in the Texas foster care system face. No confidential information about any real children or families has been disclosed.

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