A Child's Story
The following film, Emily's Dragon, was produced by the Texas CASA organization. It tells the story of Emily, who is a composite of the children helped by state CASA organizations across the country.
Thank you to Texas CASA for permission to use this video. (Please note: The end of the video refers to BecomeaCASA.org, which is a Texas site. Iowans can volunteer right here on this site.)
This film was produced by CASA of Oklahoma County. It's the story of Andre, who was taken into foster care due to neglect. Learn about the impact his CASA volunteer, Ben, made in his life. You can be the change a foster child needs. You can be in their corner advocating for their best interest at school, in their placement home, and beyond.
The stories below don't represent any particular child or the average child or youth we serve. But they do reflect some of the main circumstances we see in key areas where we focus our advocacy work. Greta's story helps illuminate the challenges of helping a child achieve both legal and relational permanency. Kamau's struggle is with educational stability and academic success in a world far different from where he started his life.
Greta, an only child, was born in 2002 into a happy family. Her mom and dad, Sue and Bob, were loving parents who doted on Greta and saw to it that she had every opportunity to succeed in life. Until Greta was 12, she was thriving and the joy of her parents’ lives. Then things turned upside down. Doctors discovered through a routine exam that Sue had cancer, a particularly dangerous form.
A week after Greta turned 13, Sue passed away. Greta and her dad were devastated. For Greta, the loss of a mother whom she loved so much was especially difficult when she was experiencing so many other changes in her own life. Her dad went into a deep depression he couldn’t shake, despite work with doctors and a counselor. He started drinking to self-medicate, and over a relatively short period of time, the drinking became very heavy. Bob was frequently incoherent and unable to attend to any of Greta's concerns at a time when she most needed support. She still loved her dad, but couldn’t understand why he was doing what he did. She was hurt, angry and alone. Though Bob had never in his life been violent, one day, in a drunken rage, he beat Greta severely. Her face was bruised, her arm broken. The neighbors heard the noise and called police.
The police and Child Protective Services intervened. Bob was arrested. Greta was immediately placed in an emergency foster home. Because this was the first time Bob had ever done anything like this, the court allowed him to enter a treatment facility. But multiple rounds of treatment didn’t work, so the court found Greta to be a Child in Need of Assistance. A CASA Advocate was appointed.
Bob couldn’t care for Greta and was an ongoing danger to her. Greta still loved her dad but knew she could never live with him again unless he could become — and stay — sober. It wasn’t to be. The Advocate worked with Greta, advocating for the supports she needed to move ahead with her life and making sure the court and all the others involved were aware of Greta's needs and wishes. Ultimately, after Greta had been with the same foster family for two years, Bob’s parental rights were terminated.
Now 16, Greta didn’t want to consider adoption. The foster family was willing to continue caring for her until she graduated from high school, but Greta was still holding out hope that her dad would become sober and things could go back to the way they were.
Through the supportive relationship the Advocate had with Greta, it was possible for them to have some pretty deep discussions about what Greta hoped for in the future. She wanted to go to college and, because of her own experience, was very interested in some type of helping profession, health care or social work, so that she could help other children and families. The Advocate learned that Greta had a particularly strong relationship with one of her high school teachers, Mrs. Evans. Greta really enjoyed talking with her frequently after school. Mrs. Evans knew quite a bit about what Greta was going through and wanted to support her in any way possible.
The Advocate shared that information with the DHS worker. Knowing that adoption would never work, they approached the teacher together about the possibility of serving as a mentor to Greta, someone who could be around and available to her through the rest of high school, into college and throughout her transition to adulthood.
Mrs. Evans, having no children of her own, was both scared and thrilled about this possibility. Together she planned with the Advocate and the DHS worker to move slowly and carefully toward this relationship in an informal way. Over the next year, Mrs. Evans helped Greta with planning for college — making applications, filling out the FAFSA forms, visiting colleges. The relationship grew and eventually, Mrs. Evans offered to welcome Greta on weekends and college breaks. This solidified the relationship.
While Greta will age out of foster care without legal permanence, she will have something perhaps even more important — relational permanency with Mrs. Evans. Many other youth in Greta's situation will eventually turn back to their birth parents and birth families even though the legal relationship has been dissolved. This may yet happen with Greta. But her strong and now permanent caring relationship with Mrs. Evans provides her with the connection, the stability, a place to get advice and help her through all the major decisions she will need to make as she moves into adulthood.
Kamau — his name means silent warrior — came into the world in Ghana in 2004. His mother died in childbirth. His father, Kojo, did his best to raise Kamau well with help from his sister. He worked mostly as a farm laborer but did as many odd jobs as possible because he longed to move to America where there were far greater economic opportunities.
By 2011, Kojo had saved enough, advanced his education enough, and obtained approval to emigrate to the US with sponsors in Iowa. Kamau entered second grade in his school in Iowa. Though his primary first language was Akan, he learned to read and speak English well enough to get along in school. His dad found a decent job and worked hard and continued to take on extra work whenever he could. He was able to make ends meet for a couple years, but by the time Kamau was in sixth grade, Kojo had difficulty keeping track of Kamau. Eventually, a report of denial of critical care for failure to provide proper supervision was “founded” after many efforts to help Kojo arrange for and provide good supervision. Kamau was adjudicated a Child in Need of Assistance and placed in foster care until his dad could make stable arrangements for supervision.
The Foster Care Review Board reviewed Kamau's foster care placement every three months, with Kamau attending hearings. At first things were going well, but when Kamau entered seventh grade, he started having difficulties in school, failing to turn in assignments, especially those involving writing. Kamau started skipping school. Teachers were concerned, but Kamau offered no explanations for his behavior and didn’t respond to their assistance.
By the time of his third FCRB hearing, Kamau had become comfortable talking with the board members. When the lead questioner asked Kamau about the difficulty he was experiencing in school, Kamau felt at ease enough to explain that he was embarrassed because he wasn’t able to understand everything he was reading or prepare some of the written assignments because of it. He skipped school to avoid embarrassment at not having his work done.
The Board recommended that the caseworker seek an assessment of his need by school personnel. In the assessment, the school found that Kamau's reading ability seemed good when he read aloud, but his comprehension was very poor. His reading ability had served him well previously, when the demands were fewer, but now he wasn’t able to keep up. The school arranged for Kamau to receive tutoring to help with comprehension and to learn more about basic writing skills that allowed him to again shine in school. As a result, Kamau was able to gradually catch up with his work, is no longer missing school, and is even getting Bs on some of his papers.
Academic success is important for all children, and more important for children who have been abused and come into the system. Kamau's situation illustrates only part of the difficulty kids in the child welfare system have. For those who are placed outside their homes, changes in placement — accompanied by changes in schools — result in failed, disrupted social connections and loss of learning. From one-third to two-thirds of foster children nationally graduate from high school. While half of children in foster care express a desire to go to college, only about ten percent do. Of those who do attend, only about a third graduate compared to more than half of other students.
Education is a primary route out of "the system" for many, but not for all children in the foster care system. We believe that the Foster Care Review Boards across the state can help all others working in the system make educational stability and academic success a reality and a part of the permanency plan for many of the children we serve.
All children served by CASA and the Foster Care Review Board are accorded privacy, so their case information is confidential. All Advocates and FCRB members sign confidentiality agreements. Thus, the stories of children we serve are composites.