By Vicki Spriggs
Chief Executive Officer of Texas CASA
Our Collaborative Family Engagement (CFE) initiative tends to lead to a lot of wonderful hallway discussions. One of the conversations that has stayed with me was about a case involving a girl named Lauren*.
One day Lauren, her CASA volunteer, caseworker, family members and other adults involved in her case gathered for a family meeting. Lauren was asked to complete a Connectedness Gram, a CFE tool used to identify important people in children’s lives. One of the people she pinpointed as a supportive connection from her past was her horse trainer, Donna – so the CFE team invited her to attend the next family meeting. At the next meeting, the group discussed Lauren’s need for permanency, and Donna put herself forward as an option.
Fast forward to today, and Lauren is out of foster care, happily living with Donna and maintaining a relationship with her mom. Members of the CFE team said that they more than likely would have never learned of Donna, much less included her in the case, if she hadn’t brought her up.
Maybe you’ve seen the late-90s romantic comedy Sliding Doors. I won’t give too much away for those who haven’t seen it, but here are the basics: the main character rushes out to catch a train. Two split narratives take place: one where she makes the train, and another where she doesn’t and the train doors – you guessed it – slide shut. The resulting two narratives couldn’t be more different from each other… and it all comes down to a pair of sliding doors.
Now, the character in the movie couldn’t have possibly understood the consequences of making, or missing, the train that day. And similarly, Lauren couldn’t have known that bringing up her horse trainer would have such an enormous impact on her future. But in hindsight, there’s no question: this was Lauren’s “sliding door moment” – a tiny, seemingly inconsequential moment that went on to hugely alter the trajectory of her life – and thanks to it, she is out of foster care and in a loving home.
More sliding door moments will now be created because of a piece of of legislation that Texas CASA supported this session: House Bill 3390. It requires guardians ad litem, attorneys ad litem and CPS caseworkers to ask children, in a developmentally appropriate way, about any adult who could be a caregiver for them. It also requires judges to ensure that children are being asked about the relationships in their lives at every permanency hearing.
HB 3390 didn’t get a lot of news coverage or attention this session – perhaps because the concept that it formalizes into law, that we need to be asking children about people in their lives who could support them, sounds like common sense. Kids know themselves, what they need and who they love – of course they should be included in these kinds of discussions that affect their future… right?
Yet all too often, the adults that are deeply involved in these cases get caught up in the actions of casework and advocacy, and the voices of the children they are meant to serve can fall by the wayside.
HB 3390 helps ensure that all parties are having more constructive conversations with children on more occasions, creating more possibilities and leading to more connected, happy, healthy children like Lauren. When she brought up her horse trainer in that family meeting that day, she probably wasn’t thinking, I could live with this person. More likely, she was thinking smaller – I’d sure like to see her again. But something that felt so small at the time had a huge impact on her future, and if the adults in her life hadn’t asked, she might still be in foster care today.
Regardless of their age and circumstances, we need to remember that the children we serve are the experts on themselves; and more often than not, they are in the best position to describe what is going on in their lives, and what and who is best for them. Sometimes, the answers we’re all running in circles trying to find are right there with the child in front of us – if we would only take the time to ask.
You can learn more about HB 3390 and the other bills we championed this session on our 86th Legislative Session Outcomes page.
*Name changed for privacy.
If you are not currently involved with CASA, I ask you today to consider how you can play a part in making a difference in the lives of our most vulnerable children. Are you ready to take the first step towards becoming a CASA volunteer? Visit BecomeACASA.org to learn how you can speak up for a child who needs you. You can also support the work of Texas CASA by making a secure online gift that will benefit the local CASA volunteer advocacy programs across the state.