A CASA’s story:
I’ve been a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) for three years now. I received my first case assignment the same week I was sworn in. For the last 1,095 days, I have thought about this moment.
The moment when my CASA kiddo would find their forever
Kym has been through a lot in her short life. She’s been in and out of foster care for the last six years or so. It began when she was removed from her mother’s home due to abuse, ultimately ending up with her father, and then being removed from his home due
to neglect. The last time she entered the system was three years ago.
That’s when I entered the picture.
We met at a temporary placement home. This bright, well-spoken girl who, at the age of 10, had seen and experienced things that no child should.
If I’m being honest, I was a little nervous. We both were, I think. But she understood why she was there, and even understood why I was there.
We talked about her family (she really missed her father) and school (she LOVES school and is a straight-A student!) She loves Art. As evidenced by something she drew for me that day. Like the
artwork my son made for me when he was little, this is something I’ll always cherish.
But there was a limit on the amount of time she could stay in the temporary foster home.
And thus began a period in her life that sadly, too many children in Kansas experience.
She packed her belongings into garbage bags more times than any child should have to count. Twelve different times she moved from Foster Home to Foster Home. Back to her father. Then back to another Foster Home. And then with a friend. And on and on and
They (whoever “they” are) say that kids are resilient. And I saw that to be true with Kym. Time and time again.
But … I also noticed that with every move, it took a little more time
for her resiliency to make its way forward. Each move, more difficult than the last.
Without much choice, she would adjust. To a new “family”, a new school, new house rules, new doctors, new friends, new therapists.
There was individual therapy. And family therapy. And each time she moved, and had to change therapists, she had to start over. Revisiting those demons from her past. Rehashing all the things she’d seen and been through, throughout her short lifespan.
She just wanted to move on, you know?
As you might imagine, life “in the system” isn’t all fun and games. Wondering if you’ll ever be able to go home. Questioning whether your father will show up for your scheduled visit. Asking yourself, “is it something I did?” Speculating if you’ll ever find a
family of your own, one that will love you and keep you safe.
And still … during our visits, I would get a smile. And a hug. There was laughter. But there were also tears.
Of course, we talked about the things that we needed to talk about (“Do you need anything?”, “How’s school?”, “How are things here, at home?”). But we also talked about boys. Because pre-teens. And her friends. Yes, pre-teens. And boys. And her siblings. And her parents. And boys. And her foster-siblings. And boys.
This young girl. Bright enough to recognize when a “friend” really wasn’t a “friend” and when a boy wasn’t the right one either.
And always. Always. We talked about how she just wanted a family. Whether it be with her biological father or an adoptive family.
We’ve shared meals together, Kym and I.
We agree lemonade is awesome. As are chips and salsa. And we both love Dairy Queen ice cream. And their chicken fingers. With cream gravy. We’ve debated whether m&ms belong in your popcorn at the movies (for the record, they DO!) We both agree that popcorn should ALWAYS have butter on it!
I told her I had recently seen the movie, “Instant Family”, and how I had sat in the theater, and cried complete buckets. Just thinking of the day that she would find her forever home. She dutifully rolled her eyes and reminded me just how truly weird I was.
She’s a pre-teen. That’s what they do.
Kym wanted siblings. And pets. Preferably a home full of sisters. Somewhere in Kansas. She didn’t care if they were rich or poor. She just wanted someone to love. And to love her.
She was placed on the Adopt Kansas Kids website – the state’s website which highlights children looking for their forever home. It didn’t take long for families to see what a gem she is, what an amazing addition to their family she would be. Several
families thought she’d be the perfect fit for them.
A family was selected for a trial visit. After a weekend with Kym, the family was all in.
And she was too. I grabbed my box of Kleenex, because I thought, “this is it!”
But after a few short months, we started to see a change in Kym. Things that were, in my opinion, very un-Kym like. She and I sat in her bedroom and she cried. And cried. And cried some more. I could do little more than offer her a hug. And a promise to talk
things over with her caseworker and my supervisor.
And it became painfully obvious this wasn’t the home for Kym after all.
She was placed with a different family for a weekend. It’s called “respite”. When one foster family gives another foster family a little bit of a break.
And this family fell in love with Kym. She was, they said, their missing puzzle piece.
I won’t soon forget the phone call I received from Kym that Friday night. Angry and tearful, as she was removed from the home and transported to a safe space. A family friend who agreed to take her in for a short while. Until her new family was ready for
Disappointed, but not deterred. Kym was relieved to be out of that situation and anxious to begin, yet again. That resiliency thing. Remember?
She packed her belongings (some in garbage bags, some in boxes) for the last time a few months ago.
As we drove through two counties to her new Foster-to-Adopt Home, she asked if we could stay in touch if she did end up getting adopted. I was overwhelmed. And I fought back tears. She rolled her eyes. And called me weird.
From the moment I met the family, I just knew. I knew that Kym would be loved. That she would be safe. That she’d have just the right amount of structure and discipline. But also an abundance of laughter and joy. She’d have sisters – just like she wanted. And
there were pets. And a Mom and Dad who acknowledged all that she had been through in her short little life and were determined to show her that her future was indeed, bright.
Kym and her new Mom and Dad were anxious to proceed with the adoption.
In the weeks leading up to the adoption, the excitement was palpable. Her parents are planning to have a huge party. And her Mom reminded me that I’m part of their family now too. And it made me so happy. And I envisioned myself sitting at Kym’s high school
graduation. Maybe even her wedding. Of course, I haven’t mentioned this to her yet.
Lest I reach a new level of ‘weird’ in her book.
Kym’s adoption was finalized last week.
“Surely”, I thought, “I can hold it together. This is a happy event. Oh, how wrong I was.
Like I had done so many times over the last three years, I reported to the Court that I agreed completely with this adoption. That Kym should be adopted by this family. That they would provide her love, and safety and stability. That she loved them. And they loved her. And then. My heart swelled. All the feels gathering in my chest. And bubbling out of me uncontrollably. My emotions overcoming any amount of resilience I had left to hold them back. The tears came. In buckets.
A short time after the hearing, after she had called all of her new family members, her Meme and Papoo, her Omi and PawPaw and Grammy, and all of her aunts and uncles and cousins, we got to see each other and chat.
To say it was an emotional day, is quite an understatement.
We talked about the happy tears. That she cried. That her Mom and Dad cried. That her caseworker, her attorney, my supervisor and I had cried.
And she didn’t even roll her eyes at me. Not once.
She sat on her back porch. Wrapped up lovingly in her Mom’s arms. The three of us smiling through our tears. And I knew.
She is HOME.
Bourbon County CASA is seeking additional volunteers to be a voice for children like Kym.
Email [email protected] to find out how you can become an advocate for abused and neglected children.