This post was written by: Karynn Abrams.
Being a past foster parent and current adoptive parent, I cannot fully express the appreciation and love I have for the individuals that truly get to know these seemingly forgotten gems and make their case and well-being heard.
When our family first started foster care, I had very little information regarding CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) and/or GAL (Guardian ad Litem) workers. Our Social Workers did the best they could but were often pulled in so many directions, constantly working with bio-parents, social workers, and attorneys, our requests and dozens of other cases, that I felt like the flag on a tug-of-war rope at times. I always thought that the system would be circular rather than linear, if that makes sense, where everyone in the case had a say and an opinion that mattered. We were all in for these kids, and our first concern was keeping them safe and giving them a loving home to stay in for as long as they needed, but we also knew the importance of permanence and stability. The frustrations of waiting and watching, being tugged and pulled, overlooked and then pushed for information becomes overwhelming and exhausting…Here steps in the CASA or GAL.
In all of our cases we had amazing advocates for our children. After our first case, we requested workers as soon as possible, if they did not already have one. Our last experience with our Guardian ad Litem was the most memorable as a four-month placement turned into a forever addition after three years. Our daughter had experienced every trauma and neglect, was passed around throughout her relatives and was being actively pursued by a loving, yet unhealthy and lost parent.
We had requested an advocate right away for this beautiful and spunky little lady based on the information we had and the unknowns of the situation. After a few weeks in trauma therapy, our GAL became even more valuable as the abuse and neglect was deeper than anyone knew. The investigations they are able to do where foster parents cannot, and social workers usually don’t have the time, becomes absolutely priceless and valuable. She was able to go to visits, go to therapy, visit with EVERYONE involved in the case, and check in with previous caregivers and current ones.
Our family had to move to another state due to employment after a year with her placement. There had been no contact from parents for about six months, and back and forth on termination hearings. I’ll tell you what, when information regarding the move and wanting to take our, then, forster daughter with us reached everyone in the case, all of a sudden people came out of the woodwork that hadn’t been seen for months. I was terrified that this little girl would be placed back in a temporary home with a recovering mother not even willing to get help for herself, who had lost custody of multiple other children for the same reason. Our GAL was the star support for our little miss in this case, stood-up in the courtroom and plead for our daughter’s well-being and the ill condition of the situation with bio-mom, and a week before the move, we found out we were able to bring her with us.
A few deep breaths and then another storm…visitations. I love my daughter’s biological mother. She has gone through so much herself, she is a brilliant, loving and kind person, but has illnesses that run deeper than anything else and tend to control all aspects of her life. Seeing the pain and sadness that our daughter felt after visits, the uncertainty with where she belonged and not being able to protect her biological mother, tore me up about as much as it did her. Our daughter even asked at the ripe old age of four, “If she can’t take care of me, why do I have to go?” Instant tears and then a phone call later, our GAL was able to push for limiting visits and hastening termination and adoption.
Due to the move and having to involve new workers from a different state, things got complicated, but our GAL was able to monitor the situation with bio-mom as well as progress with our daughter in our home and see the changes, even when we couldn’t. Two years and seven months from bringing this larger than life girlie girl into our home, we finalized her adoption.
I cannot even begin to tell you how much our GAL meant to our case. I fear we would have lost her a year into placement if not for her. The strength, confidence, facts, and pure determination to keep this child safe and look out for her long-term success, was truly amazing to watch. I shake like a leaf, filled with anxiety just walking into a courtroom. I have so much to say, and yet lack the ability to say even a word in those situations! I wrote down what I could and was able to convey my feelings and observations, but to have a third party involved to say what she was able to see, and speak with such authority, was the game changer.
These children are the ones who need a voice. I felt hopeless in a lot of our experiences. I felt like I was just damage control for these kids for the longest time. To bring someone in to listen to them, to speak for them, and to fight for them was the best thing that happened in our cases. It brought things into perspective to all parties, for me in particular, and helped me develop skills to support these kids as well or get them the help they needed.
There are too many children without a voice still, and we need more selfless and courageous individuals willing to give these remarkable children that voice. I wish I had that ability and confidence, that gift to speak in a courtroom full of people, people fighting over a life that is just beginning but that is caught up in so much turmoil they are drowning. I have many other gifts, but the gift of public speaking in this situation is not it. I am blessed to know many with that gift, however, and I implore anyone reading this to look inside and see if they have that gift and the courage to use it. They need you, and so do we.