PART 12: Home
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Maria, Emily’s CASA Volunteer:
Emily is a different kiddo compared to a year ago. It’s been so wonderful to watch her grow, and to have the opportunity to play a part in that growth.
Her mom has grown, too, in so many ways. This year has been a difficult journey for her, just like it has for Emily. But now that she’s taken the time to work through things with the help of an amazing therapist, and she’s surrounded by supportive friends and family, I have no doubt that she’s committed to being the mother Emily needs and deserves.
At the final hearing, Emily stood proudly by her mother the whole time. When I was called on by the judge, I reiterated the comments I made in my report on my home and school visits, and I recommended Emily remain with her mother and that primary custody be given to Mom. I also recommended for her father to have supervised bimonthly visits. My final recommendation was for the court to dismiss the case.
After commending Mom on her dedication and commitment to providing Emily with a safe and stable home, the judge asked Emily if she was “ready to go back home forever,” and her answer was a resounding “yes.” She and Mom were absolutely glowing.
It was a privilege, and a life-changing experience, to advocate for Emily. As I told her time and time again during our visits, this was just a difficult chapter in her life – not her whole story. She has a long, happy, exciting life ahead of her. It was hard to say goodbye… of course it was hard to say goodbye. But the reality is that there are so many more children like Emily who have dragons to slay. Children who need to know that they don’t have to face their dragons alone. Children who are desperate for a chance.
I think I’m ready to do this again!
I’m really home, for real this time. The judge said so. And I don’t have to go back to him, I don’t have to keep talking to a bunch of strangers anymore, don’t have to worry anymore… it’s all over. And just in time for the holidays!
The first thing Mom and I did to celebrate when we got home was bake cookies, just like we used to this time of year before everything happened. We made my favorite, chocolate chip (with extra chocolate!), and her favorite, peanut butter. We made way too many, but Mom said we could share them with my aunt, and Grandma and Grandpa.
It feels so good to not have to worry anymore about getting taken away.
I’m gonna miss Maria, though. I could always trust her, when Mom couldn’t be around. She would listen to me when no one else wanted to; and, when I didn’t feel like talking, she would spend time with me anyway, and make me feel safe and wanted.
I know there are still dragons out there, and I haven’t faced the last of mine. But I’m not scared like I used to be. I’m not alone anymore.
Because there will always be dragons… but there will always be brave heroes, too.
Nearly a year to-date after Emily was removed from home, the final hearing in her case has taken place – and the judge has issued his final order. Emily is home!
In the final hearing, judges often hear from witnesses and review evidence to determine whether the parent(s) followed their service plan; and, based on that evidence, they decide whether the child should be returned home and/or whether parent(s)’ rights should be restricted or terminated. In Emily’s case, all evidence and recommendations from CASA and CPS pointed to Emily’s mother being able and willing to provide her with a safe environment to grow and thrive. So, after ensuring Emily’s voice was heard in addition to all advocates on the case, the judge ordered a full return – reunification with Mom. And since visits with her father have been going relatively well, he also ordered continued, bi-monthly visitations between him and Emily, supervised by a responsible party named by Mom.
Though the case is now closed and CPS will no longer be involved, Emily’s mother can, of course, choose to continue any combination of the services she has received (therapy, her domestic violence support group, etc.), and is encouraged to do so. The same goes for Emily.
As a reminder, in Temporary Managing Conservatorship (TMC) cases like Emily’s, CPS is legally given a one-year timeline after a child is removed to find them a permanent living situation. This is to encourage urgency in getting the child out of the foster care system and into a permanent home, which, whenever safe and possible, should mean reunification with their family. Unfortunately, not all children’s cases are resolved within the one-year timeline. It is possible for a TMC case to be extended by six months, but this only happens in special circumstances.
In addition, CPS can be given Permanent Managing Conservatorship (PMC) of the child if a permanent placement still has not been found. Children can be in the PMC of the state – otherwise known as long-term foster care – with or without termination of their parents’ rights, depending on each unique situation. The state, however, is not meant to be a permanent parent – and children in its long-term care face an increased risk of negative outcomes like mental health issues, juvenile justice involvement, and experiencing homelessness or unemployment. The good news, though, is that CASA volunteers can also be appointed to PMC cases, or remain a child’s advocate after PMC is granted – and can step in to keep these children safe, reignite the urgency for getting them out of foster care and into a permanent home, and ensure that they stay connected with their community and family in whatever ways possible using the Collaborative Family Engagement (CFE) approach. Learn more about how CASA volunteers can advocate for children in long-term foster care.
Though this chapter of her life is complete, Emily’s Story is anything but over. The possibilities are endless! Maybe she’ll attend college. Maybe she will grow up to become an artist, or a doctor, or a lawyer, or a social worker. Maybe she will have a family of her own, and maybe one day she’ll reflect on Maria’s impact on her life and decide to become a CASA volunteer just like her. Whatever Emily’s future has in store, she will grow up secure, connected and empowered – in a stable, safe, unconditionally loving home, with family, forever.
Do you feel the call to make a difference for a child like Emily who needs you? The CASA programs across the state are always seeking more and more dedicated members of the community to step up, and speak up, for children in foster care who cannot speak for themselves. Learn more and join our growing movement at www.BecomeACASA.org. Every child has a chance – it’s you.®*
*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.