I’m Erin. I’m 17 years old and so happy to be where I am –and who I am– today.
Just over a year ago, I wouldn’t believe you if you told me I’d feel this way. I was acting out a lot and definitely not walking the path to my best future. I was hanging out alone in a park at 1AM when a police officer approached me. It was 40 degrees outside and, since I wasn’t wearing a jacket it was past curfew, he took me to his car and drove me down to the station. I cried all night and begged them not to take me home. And that’s how I ended up in foster care.
Child welfare investigated and determined that my needs weren’t being met – or even acknowledged – at home. They learned my mother had no idea how to parent me. She had never learned anything about parenting from my grandma. Our home was deemed unsafe for me. I couldn’t be returned to my mother, but I was also not so cool on the idea taking the help of the courts. I figured, hey, I’ll be out of foster care in a year or so anyhow and can just take care of myself. The Judge appointed a CASA volunteer to my case, Helen.
Helen spent a lot of time with me in the early days of my case. She asked a lot of questions and learned a lot about my needs through my teachers, therapist, and family members.
Helen determined that what I really needed was life skills education. She met me at a burger joint one afternoon and asked me about my plans for after high school. She told me about her life growing up and how she learned a lot about growing up on her own. Helen sold me on the idea of going through an independent living program and focusing on my education. She advocated for it in court and the Judge ordered it.
I graduated high school. I completed my independent living program. And I even enrolled in a community college. When my CASA volunteer spoke up for me, she was the voice who kept me from perpetuating the cycle that brought me into foster care in the first place.
I am who I am today because of the advocacy of my CASA volunteer.
Kaden was a lovable little 6-year-old boy who came into foster care with his brothers and sister when their teachers reported signs of neglect to DHS. The reports were found to be accurate, with the home having no running water or electricity, no food in the pantry, and other inhospitable living conditions. Due to the low availability of placements, the children were split up. Kaden went to one foster home and his siblings to another. A Judge appointed CASA volunteer Lilly to the case.
Kaden found a great fit in his foster home. The foster parents had an adorable puppy, and she and Kaden were soon an inseparable pair. But as time went on, Lilly began to learn that Kaden was deeply missing the time he once spent with his siblings. Growing up together in strained home, the children were very close. Lilly began advocating that there be more and better visitation with the sibling unit. But Kaden’s foster family was hesitant and pushed back.
In talking to the foster parents, Lilly also became keenly aware that they were hoping to foster-to-adopt. It became clear that their reluctance to regularly reunite the sibling group was, in part, because they wanted Kaden to feel at home in their family. Kaden missed his brothers and sister very much.
When the next court date came around, Lilly made a strong case for the Judge to order a more robust visitation plan between the siblings. She knew that it was in Kaden’s best interest to spend ample time with the other children. Lilly offered to be the liaison between the two foster placements. She presented Kaden’s own words to the Judge about how the separation from his siblings made him feel. The Judge ordered that the foster families work to create a solidified visitation schedule and not keep the children from seeing each other.
Over time, Lilly worked with Kaden’s foster parents to help them truly understand that loving Kaden meant giving him time with his siblings.
Through Lilly’s ardent advocacy, eventually a guardianship placement was arranged with an aunt in another part of the state. She was able to bring all four children into her home. Both foster families were completely supportive of the placement and everyone on the case knew it was the best outcome for the children.
Kaden is now 8 years old and thriving in school and at home. His relationship with his brothers and sister is stronger than ever. And he knows that “Miss Lilly” was instrumental in making sure he had a safe, permanent, and loving home.
I’m Evan and I’m a former foster kid. I entered foster care when my dad passed away from a sudden heart attack. I was 14 years old at the time. My mom had not been part of my life in over a decade. No other relatives were available for placements, so I was placed into a group home with eleven other young men of various ages. Because of the complex nature of my case, my CASA volunteer Bill was appointed to advocate on my behalf.
Soon after I was placed in the group home, my grades began to suffer. I had started acting out as well – getting into fights with the other boys in the home. Bill began visiting me weekly, sometimes taking me to the local arcade, so I could spend some time not cooped up with the other young men at the home.
Through these conversations, I told Bill a lot about my personal struggles and feelings. I felt lost and just sort of all by myself when at school. I felt the school counselor wasn’t listening to me. I felt that the classes I was in were too difficult for me. I felt all alone.
Bill asked me if I wanted to look at changing schools. I was thrilled at the idea. So Bill and I found another school near the group home willing to accept me. Bill discussed the move with the DHS worker and others on the case and then made the recommendation to the Judge. With most in agreement, the change in schools was approved.
Bill worked with both schools to make sure my files were carried over in the transition. Bill spoke to the school counselor and Special Education Director to ensure that my needs were being met and I was provided with a curriculum that challenged me while still engaging me. I was so excited – my grades shot up higher than before I was placed in foster care. And I started working on my behavior and relationships with others. I really bonded with Bill and looked up to him.
I am 18 years old now. I aged out of foster care, but because of Bill’s encouragement, I accessed my tuition waiver under Oklahoma’s Promise and enrolled in a university. I 100% credit Bill’s advocacy and mentorship with helping me become the young man I am today. I don’t know who I would be if it weren’t for him.