Each year, thousands of children are thrust into court through no fault of their own. Some are victims of violence, psychological torment, or sexual abuse. Others have been neglected or abandoned by their own parents. Most are frightened and confused. Often these children also become victims of the overburdened child welfare system – a complex legal network of lawyers, social workers, and judges who are too frequently overworked to give thorough, detailed attention to each child. A National Institute of Justice study indicated being abused or neglected as a child increased the likelihood of arrest as a juvenile by 59 percent.
Abuse and neglect increased the likelihood of adult criminal behavior by 28 percent and violent crime by 30 percent. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, as many as two-thirds of people in drug treatment programs reported being abused as children (2000). It is estimated that approximately one-third of abused and neglected children will eventually victimize their own children (Prevent Child Abuse New York, 2001). Here in Georgia, every 15 minutes, a child is the victim of confirmed abuse or neglect. Over 200 incidents of child abuse and neglect are reported daily and 99 children died from abuse and neglect in 2004.
The sooner a child is placed in a safe permanent home, the greater his chances of overcoming the past and becoming a healthy productive member of the community. Finding that safe permanent home is the mission of the CASA volunteer. Children, like these innocent victims who do not understand their rights or the legal system they are mired in, cannot advocate for themselves. Without a CASA volunteer they can quite literally be lost. Read these real stories about children right here in metro Atlanta whose futures are brighter because of the efforts of their CASA volunteers.
Robbie, Jan, and Paul – ages 15, 13, and 10, respectively – were removed from their home because their father was abusive and an alcoholic. The family had been living in essentially third world conditions in a middle class, suburban neighborhood – in filth, with no food, and a hole in their roof.
Robbie and Jan were placed together in a foster home, but Paul, who suffered extreme ADHD, was sent to south Georgia because no therapeutic foster homes were available at that time in metro Atlanta. The only family member involved with the children was their grandfather, who in his 70s, was unfortunately too old to care for them. A couple close to the grandfather became foster parents in order to provide a home for Robbie and Jan, who by this time had lived in three different foster homes in one year’s time.
While assisting and facilitating the couple’s certification as foster parents, the children’s CASA volunteer continued searching for an appropriate nearby foster home for Paul. Ultimately, another family in north Georgia close to the grandfather offered to care for Paul. They were already certified as foster parents. In addition to supporting the children, helping to identify and evaluate appropriate foster homes, and expediting their placement, the children’s CASA volunteer developed relationships with their new teachers and guidance counselors to ensure they received the attention and services they needed. He also persuaded DFCS (Department of Family and Children Services) to pay for a reading tutor for Paul, who at 10 was reading at only a first grade level.
Paul now lives in north Georgia, near his brother and sister, and just five minutes away from his grandfather. With just four months of tutoring, Paul’s reading has already improved by three grade levels, and he is in the process of being moved into “mainstream” classes. After less than a year in their new home, Robbie and Jan are excelling in school. Robbie recently enrolled in an international honors program, at the completion of which he will receive a scholarship to a college of his choice.
Anna, a three year old, was removed from her home when DFCS (Department of Family and Children Services) discovered she had suffered a sexually transmitted disease (STD) and a broken leg.
Her DFCS case manager’s immediate assumption was that Anna was living in an abusive home. After talking with and others close to Anna, her CASA volunteer discovered that the injuries were the result of parental neglect, rather than outright abuse. Anna’s mother had failed to provide the safe home and attention that would have prevented her abuse at the hands of others.
Anna’s mother’s boyfriend had sexually assaulted her and infected her with an STD. Her leg was broken when her grandmother and her grandmother’s boyfriend were rough-housing with her. Anna’s CASA volunteer visited her grandfather, who wanted to provide a home for Anna and her mother, so that they could maintain their close relationship. Because a CASA had already visited the grandfather’s home and observed him with Anna, she was able to recommend that Anna live with him permanently, well before DFCS would have had an opportunity to conduct a formal evaluation.
Because of her CASA volunteer’s commitment, Anna was reunited with her family in a safe home in a fraction of the time than would otherwise have been possible.
Kinsey and Katrina, two sisters, aged two and four, were about to be moved to their second foster family when their CASA volunteer visited their future home.
During her visit, she discovered that the girls already knew their new family because they had lived down the street from them a year or so earlier. She shared this information with Kinsey and Katrina and reminded them of the happy memories they had of this family – which immediately transformed their anxiety and sadness into excitement to be reunited with a couple they loved and trusted.
Their CASA volunteer then contacted Katrina’s teacher, who planned a going away party for her last day in class. Since moving to their new home, Kinsey and Katrina have thrived. Their new parents are now in the process of legally adopting them.
Your children need your presence more than your presents.
Do not train a child to learn by force or harshness but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.
Manuel, an eleven year old boy, had been living with his great aunt for six years when she found that she could no longer care for him and contacted DFCS (Department of Family and Children Services). Manuel was placed in DFCS custody and moved to a group home, where he was away from his family and afraid of what his future might hold.
Juvenile Court contacted Fulton County CASA, which immediately went to work finding Manuel a permanent home. His biological parents were not eligible for custody, but CASA learned that his half-sister, who resided in North Carolina, was eager to care for him. Fulton County CASA talked with Manuel and investigated his sister to ensure she was a suitable candidate for guardianship. Next, they contacted North Carolina’s Guardian ad Litem program, North Carolina’s equivalent of CASA, to ask for help in evaluating her home.
In March, Manuel’s dream came true when the court awarded custody to his sister, based on recommendations of Fulton County CASA and North Carolina Guardian ad Litem. Without CASA’s help, Manuel’s ordeal, like those of thousands of children, could have continued for many years. Today, he lives with his family in a loving, stable home.