For many of us, our work with CASA has motivated us to reconsider our ideas and assumptions around family.
Whether that process began when a child pleaded to return to the parents who neglected them, or when a youth’s former teacher stepped forward to begin the adoption process, we understood that family – no matter how it looks – must, most importantly, be a source of dependable support that acts in the best interest of the child or youth.
Through the steps of Collaborative Family Engagement (CFE), we have the means to help create a lifelong network of support for children and youth in foster care. In collaboration with Child Protective Services (CPS), CASAs reach out to responsible adults who have a vested interest in the welfare of the children in their case. Extended family members, teachers, family friends and neighbors all come together to identify the children’s needs, how best to meet those needs, and how to support finding the children permanency. This special family also works to support the children’s biological parents and remains invested long after the case closes and the CASA and caseworker say goodbye.
This work of family finding and engagement is not easy, but it is imperative for the success of the child. Which leads us to another necessary shift in thinking: in addition to challenging any fixed notions of what family looks like, we CASAs must also reevaluate our idea of success.
Consider the recent story of Marisol, a 13-year-old who entered state custody in 2015 with her two brothers. Prior to the CFE work on her case, Marisol moved to six different placements and, in the process, lost all contact with her siblings. Trauma from past abuse led to the risk of self-harm, which led to Marisol’s placement in a psychiatric hospital and eventually in a highly restrictive Residential Treatment Facility (RTF). When Our Community, Our Kids (OCOK) Region 3b Care Coordinator Donna Stowe sat down with Marisol’s CFE team, she immediately realized that RTF was an inappropriate environment for Marisol and that she was “the perfect candidate” for OCOK’s new Professional Home-Based Care (PHBC) program. PHBC places higher-needs children in 9-12 month intensive, home-based settings in which specifically-trained professional parents provide trauma-informed care and prepare children for permanency in adoptive homes or other non-institutionalized settings.
“[Marisol] is a bright, sociable young lady who is easy to engage,” Stowe said. “[She] can sometimes have challenging behaviors and needs a caring adult to teach her how to manage these strong emotions.”
Stowe brought Marisol’s file to the attention of OCOK’s clinical director, and in July 2018, Marisol became the first PHBC placement in the region.
These are two strikingly different chains of events. In the first, abuse leads to trauma, trauma leads to self-harm, self-harm leads to additional losses of home, and all lead to isolation. In the second, CFE assembles a collaborative team, the team shares information about a youth’s needs, needs lead to solutions, and every step leads to securing the support that the youth requires.
While this story does not, at present, end with a forever family, Marisol’s CFE outcome stands as a success. The combined efforts of the CFE team have helped Marisol take a step toward normalcy; toward feeling more like a normal teenager. After everything was taken away from her, Marisol now has a year of security and space so she can consider questions as mundane as what color to paint her nails, and as empowering as how to use her role on student council to affect positive change for her school community. She now has a guarantee that she will receive the specialized attention and resources she requires while living in the least restrictive home environment possible, where the faces that greet her are those of two personally-invested, professional parents rather than the medical staff on shift. And when an adoptive family does find Marisol, they will certainly benefit from the wisdom and experience gathered by her PHBC family and other members of her extended family of support.
“I have learned that CFE successes come in various forms,” Stowe said. “This has been a wonderful example of CFE working in an unexpected way.”
Because all children and youth deserve meaningful lifelong connections and permanency as soon as possible, our goal is to engage in CFE for all children in foster care, those in Temporary Managing Conservatorship (TMC) and in Permanent Managing Conservatorship (PMC). Thus far, more than 2,800 CASA and CPS representatives in 31 programs and 48 counties are trained in CFE. Learn more about CFE.