Isabella* was just 2 years old when she and her two older sisters were first removed from home and placed in foster care. She was 12 years old when she met her CASA volunteer.
She was adopted on her 14th birthday.
CASA of the Coastal Bend volunteer Patricia Bates first heard about CASA 20 years ago, when she was living in Dallas and a member of the Junior League. She saw a presentation on CASA and knew right away it was something she wanted to do, but she was worried about the time commitment and emotional toll. She moved to Corpus Christi, had two children, and got involved with the CASA of the Coastal Bend board. Once she stopped working and her girls were in school full time, she knew she was ready.
“It was just me looking at myself and going, ‘Okay it’s time,’” Bates said. “If those kids can go through it and we expect them to be resilient, I certainly can be. No more excuses.”
Isabella and her sisters were Bates’ first case. She remembered being nervous about meeting them – Isabella was 12, and her sisters were 15 and 16 – and by that point they had already been in and out of foster care for 10 years. She wasn’t sure what to expect: would they be happy to meet her, or would they have their guard up?
She recalled their very first meeting.
“I said, ‘I am not a lawyer. I don’t work for CPS. I’m a volunteer, so I’m here just for you,’” Bates said. “Just seeing their faces… I knew this was the right way to go with it. They were very excited.”
Bates was on the sisters’ case for about a year and a half. They moved foster homes four times in the first year, mainly because foster parents did not know how to deal with Isabella’s “behavior issues.” She’d throw tantrums, Bates explained, and they’d get moved – a sadly common scenario for children who are grappling with the trauma of being removed from home due to abuse or neglect.
“Kids in foster care tend to be treated like they’ve done something wrong when they haven’t,” she said.
CASA volunteers work to reunify children with their family whenever safe and possible. After getting to know Isabella and her sisters and becoming more familiar with their situation, however, it became clear to Bates that this would not be in their best interest. Their mother struggled with substance addiction, and all six of her children (three older children in addition to Isabella and her sisters) had been removed from her. She had been getting services for many years, Bates said, but never showed signs of progress or recovery, and didn’t show up for her court hearings. Her oldest three children had already aged out of care, and she hadn’t seen Isabella or her sisters in four years.
Isabella had not formed much of an attachment to her mom, having been removed at such a young age. Her sisters, on the other hand, had both made it clear to Bates that they never wanted to see her again. The oldest aged out of care at 18; and the middle sister expressed to Bates that she did not want to be adopted, as she was also quickly approaching age 18 when she would exit care and be on her own.
Bates felt strongly, though, that there could still be a family out there for Isabella. So, certain that the circumstances with her mother were not going to change, she began advocating for termination of parental rights. Other parties involved in the case resisted, feeling that Isabella was too old to be adopted. Bates argued, though, that at least she would be given a chance – a chance at getting out of foster care and being adopted into a loving home, and a chance at a brighter future. There was simply no good reason not to try.
“Even if we do a termination trial, she’s going to be in the same position she is now [foster care]. None of that changes,” she said. “The only thing that changes is we give her opportunity.”
Her mother did not show up to the trial, and her rights were terminated. Just a couple weeks later, Isabella went to an adoption fair and met her new family. Six months later, on her 14th birthday, they adopted her.
Today, Isabella is thriving in a loving home. She has straight A’s in school, she’s on the tennis team, it’s “just amazing,” Bates said. Her parents are helping her stay connected with her sisters. Her oldest sister is doing well – she has a steady job; and in addition to keeping contact with Isabella, she still catches up with Bates on occasion. So far, her middle sister has not stayed in touch, but Isabella’s parents are open and hopeful that one day this will change.
“If CASA hadn’t been there, this girl would still be in foster care or worse,” Bates said. “Now she’s a normal kid. She has everything she deserves.”
These days, Bates is volunteering on two other CASA cases. One of them is heading towards family reunification, and the other is a Collaborative Family Engagement (CFE) case – she’s working with CPS to surround the child with family and other supportive adults to ensure they have a network that lasts even after CASA and CPS involvement ends. She also serves on the boards of Texas CASA and Corpus Christi-based Foster Angels.
Becoming a CASA volunteer is a serious commitment, but it’s an opportunity to make a true, real difference – not only for a child, but for your whole community, Bates said.
“You literally could change your community. I think about Isabella and where she came from… she now has completed a family,” she said. “They are just as happy to have a daughter as she is to have a family, and now she’s going to pass that on and on. It has literally broken the cycle.”
*Name changed for privacy.