When my cell phone rang Friday morning I didn’t recognize the number…normally I’d let it go to voicemail, but something told me to pick up.
“Kim, it’s Jenna*, I’m sorry to call you, but I can’t get a hold of anyone else, and I need help.”
It took a half a second for me to recognize her voice, I realized I was holding my breath.
Exhaling, I asked her to tell me what was going on. She launched into the circumstances of the last few months of her life. Mentally counting on my fingers how long it had been since I’d seen her I said, “Jenna you know I am no longer really involved in this case, so I am not sure how much help I can be to you.” (Except, I tell myself simultaneously, I AM involved in this case because she has dialed my number and I have picked up…so, it’s really a moot point).
After hearing her out (amazed by her ability to remain totally calm, inspiring me to be the same), I told her I would do what I could to help her find the assistance she needed.
I am, err…I was, well, now I am still a CASA advocate. That means, in a nutshell, I mentor a child in need. A child who has been placed in the care of CPS and needs someone on their side as they are put through an overwhelmed system they never asked to be part of. CASA is a national volunteer organization I chose to be trained for, and have been involved in, for the past several years. It has been rewarding and heartbreaking at the same time.
So heart-breaking at the “end” of Jenna’s case, I made the decision to walk away.
You see, when the judge went against what I felt was in the best interest of Jenna during the court hearing last November, telling me I needed to have faith and deciding to send her back to her mom out of state, I admit, I was crushed. My personal boundaries had not been strong enough. Although I had only known Jenna for ten months, I’d let myself get too invested.
When I hung up the phone with Jenna, I made the only call I could make…and BAM, I mean…
By 5 p.m. Friday night I was told by my CASA supervisor that Jenna (in the custody of an awesome Texas CPS worker) was on a flight back here!
She wanted to know if I was willing to return to the case.
Was there really an answer other than, “Of course.”
I didn’t see any.
This 12-year-old has been through abuse, abandonment, and inconsistent hell most of her life. She thought she was finally on a road to stability with her mom whom she hadn’t seen in many years.
Mom was not ready, not by a long shot. But she talked a good game, good enough to fool the former CPS worker and the judge anyway.
Dad lives in Texas and says he’s ready to make the commitment to work all the services he is asked to in order to become the father and hero she so desperately needs. He was MIA all of last year when we were looking for viable options. His last hair follicle and UA test were negative.
It’s a start, time will tell what happens from here.
Hope is the four-letter word I am clinging to.
In the meantime, we’ll resume our weekly phone calls and visits to Jenna’s favorite lunch places and shopping experiences. My job in this case is to be a good listener, to gently guide Jenna into making healthy choices where I can, to assure her that even if her parents aren’t able to get their acts together there are people who very much want to see her succeed (by-God she deserves to have some structure and consistency in her life), and to speak on her behalf in front of the judge when we are back in his courtroom this week.
The one word for me that has always come to mind with this child is resilience. And here it is again, flashing before my eyes. Her spirit hasn’t been broken, and she (thus far) has not succumbed down the path to what’s become her parent’s personal demon.
Sometimes I wonder how much, if any, difference I can make in the life of a kid who’s grown up in circumstances I can’t even fathom. Then I remember…
It only takes one kind word, one act of compassion, one prayer to make a difference.
*Jenna is, of course, not her real name.