A Child’s Journey and Why She Needs You
Posted on November 15th, 2019
Laney sits on her aunt’s couch twiddling her thumbs as she waits for yet another new person to walk through the door and pepper her with confusing questions. She thinks back to that scary evening when strangers knocked on her door, poked around her home, and then took her away from her parents. Her mom and dad were acting kind of funny that night and couldn’t answer any of her questions about what was happening.
As she quietly reflects to herself, she hears a knock at the door and then a soft female voice coming from the hall. She is soon joined by a kind woman who offers her a sincere smile.
“Hello,” she says. “My name is Rabia and I am your advocate. What’s your name?”
Laney hesitates before introducing herself, not sure what to make of this woman. She eventually offers a tentative smile in return.
“Do you know what an advocate or CASA is?” Rabia asks.
Like many children, Laney is unsure of what an advocate is or why exactly she is there. CASAs are Court Appointed Special Advocates that assist children who are involved in the child welfare system due to experiencing abuse and/or neglect. Their main function is to act as the child’s voice in court. They walk with their assigned child every step of the way, offering support, guidance, and most importantly, advocacy through the long and sometimes confusing process.
Rabia, a long-time advocate, understands the child’s confusion very well. She begins explaining the role of an advocate, telling Laney that her main purpose is to look out for her needs and advocate in her best interests.
“Many of the people you have already met work with DCS, the Department of Child Services. Their goal is to assist with the needs of the entire family, but sometimes doing what may best for the family isn’t exactly what’s best for you. You can rely on me, tell me as much or as little as you want, and it’s my job to communicate your wishes to the court along with my recommendations as your advocate. Does that make sense?”
Laney nods again as she begins to understand, but she still has many more questions. Laney inquires about her parents, wondering where they are and when she can be with them again. She asks about what has already happened, why, and what is to come.
“Well,” Rabia begins by acknowledging the child’s fears and concerns, “You must be very confused and you probably miss your parents very much. You being here doesn’t change the fact that you are their child and they are your parents, but right now they are struggling. I am here to act as a spokesperson for your needs and best interests. This process may seem long and a little confusing at times, but I will be here with you every step of the way.”
Rabia goes on to explain that Laney’s parents have already attended what is called the initial hearing where a judge talked to them about what more they need to be doing for their child and what programs they can utilize to help them make the necessary changes. The judge decided it was best for Laney to stay with her aunt while her parents work to fulfill the judge’s preliminary recommendations and until the court is confident that her parents’ home is free from abuse and/or neglect. However, Rabia assures her that her parents will be able to have supervised visits very soon.
Rabia goes on to explain that Laney may experience many changes in the months to come and that she would be happy to answer any questions she may have along the way. The purpose of being involved in the child welfare system is to recognize risky behavior on behalf of the parents that jeopardizes the wellbeing of the child and to assist the family with eradicating it to secure a safe and stable home. While DCS’s purpose is to advocate for the needs of the entire family, and the parents’ attorneys advocate for their interests, Rabia will be present to solely represent Laney’s best interests.
The role of an advocate may sound simple when broken down; however, it can be tricky when the needs of the child and the desires of the family do not align. Rabia is Laney’s advocate, meaning she is committed to offering a voice for Laney and her wishes. This also means she may face the difficult task of disagreeing with other representative parties to ensure Laney’s safety and well-being.
The ultimate goal of any child welfare case is to ensure permanency through a safe and stable home. Permanency can be found in reunification, adoption, legal guardianship, placement with a fit and willing relative or through another permanent planned living arrangement (APPLA). Reunification with parents is a priority when we can ensure that the child’s emotional, physical, and developmental needs will be successfully met.
Rabia will guide Laney through the process until permanency is fulfilled and the case closes. At that point, Laney will no longer be a child “in the system” and can get back to enjoying her childhood. However, even though a case may close, many children carry the stressful experience with them for years to come.
After answering all of Laney’s questions, Rabia reaches in her purse and pulls out her card.
“This is my phone number. Please, at any time, feel free to reach out to me if you have any more questions or want to talk about anything. Remember, I am her for YOU.”
Laney smiles and can’t help but feel a little relief.
This process is long and often times traumatic for children, so it is important to remember that sincerity, sensitivity and emotional intelligence are key to establishing any relationship with children like Laney. These qualities are essential for the success of Child Advocates’ mission, “Ensuring all children thrive in a safe and secure home.”
Due to the 2014 opioid crisis, the number of children in the system doubled. These numbers have continued to steadily rise since. Unlike many other CASA programs around the United States, the Indianapolis-based organization does not uphold a waiting list. Therefore, any child in need of services immediately enters the system and is appointed an advocate.
With nearly 4,000 children like Laney currently in Marion County’s child welfare system, Child Advocates is always in need of volunteers willing to represent the community’s most vulnerable children.
If you or someone you know would be interested in learning more about our volunteer opportunities, click here for more information. Laney is waiting for YOU!