Yesterday was a challenge for me.
Many of you know I have been a volunteer advocate for CASA for several years now. If you haven't heard of CASA, it is a national organization built on volunteers who mentor children who have, through no fault of their own, found their way into the Child Protective Services program.
I am able to choose the case I become involved in, but I have to commit to follow it through from the time the child comes into care until a permanent solution takes place (usually a year, or 18 months in some situations). Whenever possible, reunification with a parent is best, or extended family is a great option too.
I have always taken on a case with only one child, and it's always a girl in her preteen or teenage years (mainly because there is a lot of phone calling, visiting, and some court appearances involved in each child's case, so I choose to pass on cases with multiple children). I am attracted to this population because I figure I have been a teenage girl, and will soon have a teenage girl, so I may best connect with this age, plus, a lot of other volunteers like the younger kids and babies so there is a need for those willing to work with teens.
My latest case is coming to a close. Without going into the ugly details, Sarah* is a twelve-year-old girl who came into care early in 2015, I have known her since February. Based on all that has transpired in her young life, it is hard to believe Sarah is as funny, friendly, outgoing, intelligent, and resilient as she is (while in care this year, she had four foster placements...). Sarah, like so many other kids in the system, has a lot of potential.
The plan has been to get her back to her mom who, for a number of reasons, hasn't seen Sarah since she was seven years old. Mom lives out of state, and has been working at being able to raise Sarah again. The timeline was for reunification in January, 2016.
A hearing was called two weeks ago wherein the protective services worker (who, God bless her, has too many cases on her plate) proposed reunification with mom at Thanksgiving. Much earlier than anticipated. Despite my voicing my concerns about this abrupt move and after hearing me speak, the judge agreed with me, but chose to send her home early, telling me "sometimes you just have to have faith."
I had a hard time reconciling the decision in my head. Admittedly, I may have gotten more emotionally invested than I should have this time.
My anxiety level would spike when I thought of all the things that could happen to Sarah once she is returned to her mom. Mom is only a year sober, there is a stepdad Sarah's never met, though mom and Sarah have done some counseling via the phone, they haven't seen one another in person or lived together for five years. There are other older siblings involved who have their own sets of issues...
I could go on, but here's what I discovered: when I thought about Sarah's past and Sarah's future I got anxious in pondering what might happen. Instead of concentrating on the fact that right now Sarah is excited to go home to her mom, her mom is a year sober and in therapy, stepdad is willing to do the work to integrate Sarah into the family, and Sarah is excited about starting her new "permanent" school.
Yesterday was the day I saw Sarah for our final visit before she leaves. For the past nine months she and I have been talking on the phone, having lunch, going shopping, and have even gone to the movies (I took her to see Disney's Inside Out).
Although Sarah had always been friendly and talkative, she definitely had her guard up initially. It took some time for her to trust me. Which is to be expected when a strange adult comes into your life, and you have pretty much raised yourself physically and emotionally.
When we went out to eat one last time, I presented her with a fleece tie-blanket that I'd made. (I am not the least bit crafty, and she knows this...so she was impressed). During our visits we often went to Ross to shop, and she'd always had her eye on emoji shirts, joggers, purses...so, when I saw the emoji fleece at Hobby Lobby I knew I had to make the blanket. She'll need it for winter, as her mom lives much further north of Texas.
It was hard to say goodbye, but I will do what I can to help Sarah from here on out...which is to concentrate on the excitement she has this moment for reunification, and to invest in faith...her life will work out exactly the way it's meant to.
And I will remember this experience as I head into the next phase of my volunteer effort for CASA.
If we want to make a difference in the lives of others we have to be willing to be open, compassionate, honest, and meet them where they most need.
*Sarah, not her real name, is my favorite girl name.