Seven years ago, Sofia*, entered the child welfare system when she was nine years old, with her older sister, Maria, who was 13, due to allegations of physical abuse and neglect. The girls and their four siblings were initially placed under court protection, remaining in their home with their mother and stepfather. They were appointed a CASA who spoke their language and understood their culture.
A year into their case, their CASA received a terrifying call from the girls’ aunt: The girls had run away in the middle of the night. Maria had witnessed their stepfather sexually abusing Sofia, and she knew she had to protect her sister. The girls managed to get to a relative’s home outside of Virginia and reached out to their CASA. The CASA learned that the stepfather had been abusing Sofia for many months. With the police involved and the Department of Family Services moving to remove all of the children and place them in foster care, their mother and stepfather fled the United States in the middle of the night with the four youngest children.
The girls remained with their relative, however after a year, the relative asked that the girls be removed from her home. The girls were placed in separate foster homes, and their CASA made sure that they had visits and maintained their connection. Maria turned 18 and opted to enter the Fostering Futures program, and entered an independent living program. Sofia’s foster home placement disrupted, so she was moved to another, and then another, and another…in total, Sofia experienced eight placement changes since coming under the Court’s protection.
Sofia and Maria have had multiple judges oversee their cases, multiple Guardians ad litem, multiple social workers, multiple therapists, and several school changes, but there has been one consistent person in their case: their CASA. Their CASA was the person Sofia and Maria reached out to when they ran away from home. Their CASA has visited them every month and checked in on them in every placement. Their CASA knows the girls better than anyone on their case and she has worked tirelessly to make sure ensure that they have what they need.
While Maria created a safe and secure life for herself as a young adult with the ongoing support of her CASA, Sofia struggled. She became withdrawn and sad, particularly in her sixth and seventh foster placements. She was despondent. Even visits from her CASA couldn’t cheer her up. Her seventh foster parents became frustrated with her and it was decided that she would be moved again.
In her eighth placement, she is thriving. In this home, she has many foster sisters. She is at ease, and she loves being a part of the family and a part of their routines. The foster mother welcomes Maria into her home and facilitates visits between the sisters. Sofia is happy.
Last week, Sofia, now 16, had a hearing before the Court—her annual review hearing. Her CASA reported, “Sofia appears to this CASA to be confident, happy, self-aware, and extremely close with her foster mother. Sofia told this CASA that this is her home, and that she feels she has found stability. It has been a pleasure for this CASA to observe Sofia becoming her own best advocate, discovering options for her future, and developing her academic goals.” During the hearing, Sofia stood up and spoke directly to the judge. She advocated for herself, and everyone in the courtroom was amazed at the transformation they witnessed. At the conclusion of the hearing, she went over to her CASA and gave her a huge hug. The judge witnessed it and asked, “Aw, is that your foster mom?” and Sofia beamed and passionately replied, “No! This is my CASA!”
Sofia’s CASA is thrilled for her. Sofia wants her foster mother to adopt her, and her foster mother is in full agreement. Her foster mother understands the bond between Sofia and Maria and has pledged to continue to include Maria in their home and family. Sofia’s grades are excellent, she is involved in extracurricular activities, and she is living the life of a typical teenager, for the first time in her life. Her CASA is committed to Sofia and Maria and will continue to be a support and resource for them, for the rest of their lives.
We at the CASA office have witnessed the trajectory of both girls, over the last seven years. We held our breath when the girls ran away, and we have worried about the girls and their futures. Today, we are sighing a breath of relief and are so proud of all they have accomplished and overcome. Their CASA’s unwavering dedication and love for the girls has played a huge part in their lives. They both know that their CASA is a fierce advocate for them and that she will always be a part of their lives, whenever and however they need her. It has been an absolute gift to witness the progress of these girls, and to watch the relationship between them and their CASA grow and become stronger with each passing year.