At age 79, Lore Dietrich has devoted more than 30 years – nearly half of her life – to speaking up for children who have been affected by abuse and neglect. A native German, Dietrich moved to Texas with her husband in 1960 and first joined the CASA movement in 1988, when only 13 local CASA programs were established in Texas.
After an incredible three decades of CASA advocacy, it probably comes as no surprise to readers that the very first question we asked her was: How many children did you serve?
“I’ve lost track!” she laughed. “Definitely over 50. Hey, 30 years is a long time!”
During her time as a volunteer, first with CASA 69 and then with CASA for the Cross Timbers Area, Dietrich advocated for children of a wide variety of ages, backgrounds and circumstances. She’s “seen about anything,” as she put it, reminiscing with us on some of her most memorable cases.
Her very first case was a grim one, she recalled – something of a crash course in the importance of maintaining a healthy amount of emotional distance in CASA advocacy.
It involved a little, 5-week-old baby girl. The abuse was devastating: she was in a full-body cast, with a broken femur and a dozen broken ribs. Heartbroken, Dietrich remembered her first thought being, “We’ve got to adopt this baby.” But her husband reminded her to stay focused on her role as a CASA: to be a steadfast advocate for the child, ensure she’s kept safe while she’s in the system, and help her stay with family if possible.
In the end, the baby’s mother gave custody to her sister, which Dietrich supported. She visited the child at her new placement, and knew it was the right decision – she was safe and loved.
When asked to share her favorite story of advocating on a case, Dietrich thought of Juan* with no hesitation. Juan entered the foster care system due to physical and sexual abuse. Because of the trauma and abuse he’d experienced, he began to act out severely, so he was placed in a specialized facility. After his time in the facility, CPS placed him with his grandparents. They were deeply unsupportive of him, said Dietrich, and “sabotaged everything he wanted to do.” Even though Juan was a driven student, they would not pay for his tests, they hid his college offer letters and refused to drive him to part-time jobs.
Though so many odds were against him, Juan persevered, Dietrich said. He was able to secure an internship at a nursing home and receive his nurse’s assistant certificate – all without any help from his grandparents, before he even finished his senior year in high school. He decided he would move out when he turned 18. Dietrich helped him prepare for life on his own, teaching him to get his own bank account and the like. She also helped him get his high school ring and his graduation gown after his grandparents refused to do so.
She was there for Juan’s high school graduation, cheering him on. No one else was.
That’s where CASA really made the difference for Juan, Dietrich said. He had someone on his side – someone who cared, encouraged and advocated for him even when no one else did. Today, he is working on his nursing degree.
“It’s mind boggling to me how well he’s done under all these dire circumstances. He’s my pride and joy,” Dietrich said. “He could always rely on me.”
Shortly after Juan’s case closed, Dietrich remembered that he called her and asked her to stay in his life. The last time she heard from him was this year on Feb. 14 – Valentine’s Day.
“I said, ‘What do you need?’ He said, ‘Nothing. I just wanna talk,’” she recalled. “I’m not his CASA anymore, but I’m kind of like his ‘momma.’ For him to just call out of the blue, and not need anything… it was just mind boggling.”
Dietrich’s final CASA case lasted seven years. A brother and sister – 7 and 9 years old, respectively, when she was appointed – had been removed from home due to family violence and drug use. The two went from placement to placement, RTC to RTC, for years. It was a difficult situation: the boy struggled with anger and temper problems, and the girl ran away countless times – both common behavioral manifestations of traumatic experiences, especially for children like them who have languished in the foster care system for years.
The bright spot in the case is this – although their parents’ rights were initially terminated, their mother has since completed services, is maintaining sobriety and is almost done with probation. She has a house, a job and a boyfriend with no CPS history. CPS eventually placed the boy with her, and the girl with her great aunt. Mom wishes both could come back home, Dietrich explained, but the brother and sister do not get along.
The situation “isn’t perfect,” she said, but the kids, now 15 and 17, are back with family after many long years in highly restrictive facilities.
Dietrich made the difficult decision to retire when the case closed in February. At almost 80 years old, and a great-grandmother of four with two more on the way, the travel and long-term commitment required for CASA advocacy is harder than it used to be, she said.
“I’m getting too old for that. My last case lingered on for seven years… and I was constantly on the road,” she said. “It’s time for me to ‘park it.’”
Because of her many years of service and her heart for children, Dietrich has become something of a legend in the CASA community. To put things in perspective: Texas CASA is celebrating its 30th Anniversary this year – a major milestone – but Dietrich started her career as a CASA volunteer before we even existed. Many also know her from the Texas CASA statewide conference, where we recognize the longest-serving CASA volunteer in the audience, awarding them with a free registration for the next year. It’s gone to her for the past four years.
While she appreciates the honor, Dietrich admitted that receiving it year after year got a little “embarrassing,” as she’s never much enjoyed being in the spotlight. Knowing she planned to retire, she decided to give her free 2019 registration away to the second-longest-serving volunteer in the audience.
Dedicated advocates like Dietrich fuel the CASA movement. We only just skimmed the surface of her career, discussing just four of the dozens of children she served. Each of her CASA cases were unique, and some ended with brighter outcomes than others. But what each of them had in common was the unwavering advocacy of a dedicated, compassionate adult.
Like many other CASA volunteers, Dietrich’s impact in the lives of the children she served was not always immediately obvious or easily put into words. But it was always there, and she kept showing up for the children who needed her.
“We can’t save every child on this earth. But if we can help one at a time, then we’ve done our job. So, I just kept doing that,” she said. “It’s not so much the time you spend, but that you put your heart and soul in the case and those kids. Because that’s what they need. They need you.”
Wrapping up our interview, we asked Dietrich for her final thoughts. She responded humbly.
“It’s been a good run.”
*Name changed for privacy.