Melanie wanted to give back to her community and decided that the CASA volunteer program would be a good fit. “When I first signed up to be a CASA volunteer, I didn’t anticipate I’d be meeting these kids who handle their grueling situations with such strength and grace,” said Melanie. “I know I’ve made an impact in many of their lives, but the one child who touched my life the most is Jessica.”
“I met Jessica soon after she had been removed from her mother’s care. She was a guarded, withdrawn, and quiet 12-year-old,” said Melanie. The police were looking for the mother’s boyfriend, a known violent sexual predator when they found Jessica sharing that same home. The living conditions in the home were deplorable which resulted in Child Protective Services removing Jessica and placing her with her aunt. Unfortunately, stories like Jessica’s aren’t uncommon.
“It’s very empowering to help a child leave a terrible situation and feel promise for her future.”
“For the first few months, Jessica didn’t share too much with me. It was clear she didn’t trust me despite my consistent visits and contact. I brought journals and art supplies to our visits as an alternative to conversation. I thought it may be easier for her to unleash her feelings through writing or artistic expression. I would text her and ask about her day. It took a while, but eventually she opened up,” Melanie said.
Like many parents, Jessica’s mother wanted them to live together, but Jessica didn’t feel that same way. It is the CASA volunteer’s job to understand the needs and wants of the child and to convey those needs to the judge. Melanie shared, “while the mother was completing all of her services needed to get her daughter back, she remained with her boyfriend. In our visits, Jessica would talk about missing her pets, but not about missing her mother. I tried to help with that by bringing my own dogs on some visits.”
More than a year after the case was opened Jessica continued doing well living with her aunt. She was enjoying her new school, doing great in therapy and was happy. These were all signs to Melanie that Jessica was in the right home. “It was at our permanency hearing that the mother, very surprisingly, gave up her parental rights. We asked that the aunt would be granted guardianship. The Judge agreed and the case was closed with Jessica living in a safe and permanent home,” said Melanie.
Jessica’s story is similar to other children’s stories. However, not all children are as fortunate to find hope and a future in a permanent home with someone who loves them. “I’ve kept in touch with the Jessica and her aunt. We have become friends who will go shopping or meet for lunch,” Melanie said. “It’s very empowering to help a child leave a terrible situation and feel promise for her future.”