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6 case managers, 7 foster homes – 1 CASA

By Rachel McDaniel
news@pikecountygeorgia.com

I was scrolling social media recently when I saw the question, “If everyone you ever knew were in one place, who would you look for first?”

At first, my heart jumped to, “Oh my dad, of course.”

Then I burst into tears as I remembered a little girl – for the first time in years. I worked at a library and the man who brought her in needed to use the computer. He made her sit at his side as he typed away. She was about 3 years old and when she got a little fidgety, he snatched her arm and snapped at her. I offered to read her books. I’ve always loved kids and their innocence. He said, “No,” but he let me show her the kids’ side of the library “as long as you don’t bother anyone,” he snapped.

She was very timid as she walked with me. I put away some children’s books so I could be near her and quietly cheer her up. She never said a word but she smiled. I went back to work behind the front desk and some time later, she came to me and gave me a hug around my legs, smiling so sweetly up at me. It was a short-lived moment because her dad became livid. He jumped up and snatched her away, “I told you not to bother anyone,” he said as he dragged her out the front door and whipped her.

She came back inside with tears in her eyes and running down her face, but she made no noise. She sat silently by his side for the next 30 minutes and I felt threatened by the man’s presence as my heart hurt for her. After they left, I begged my superior to let me look up his name and report the behavior we had all witnessed. They said it was against the rules.

I have wondered so many times over the past 20 years what happened to that little girl. Did she ever speak? Did she ever escape the abuse? In what other ways was she being abused? She would be around 25 now and I can only pray that she has found peace in a life that started with such strife.

When I was in middle school, there was a foster home near my house and the kids rode the same bus I did. They all came from unfortunate situations and of course none of them would have chosen that for their lives. Most wanted to return home, despite the abuse and appalling conditions. It left a mark on my heart and when I had two sweet, adorable girls of my own, I wanted so badly to foster children myself to help them rise above the situations they were born into.

Not having a big enough house, a full time job and sports schedule has so far kept me from fostering children but I’ve been a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for children in the foster care system for around four years now. All the children I’ve represented as a CASA have been amazing. They are resilient, facing each new day with bravery as they are taken from their families and placed sometimes with complete strangers – and often moved repeatedly to new homes, new schools, new situations. CASAs write reports for the judge so they can see all aspects of how the child is doing and what is needed.

DFCS takes care of so many things, but there is a lot of turnover and sometimes children have different case managers every year or even more often than that. The children I most recently served as CASA for are all beautiful souls, intelligent, musical, artistic, athletic and caring. In just three years of being in the foster care system, they had six different case managers and finally an adoption agent. Several times, they lived apart from their siblings and in total, the children lived in seven different homes.
But they only had one CASA. I wasn’t there every day (CASAs are required to visit once a month), but I have been there for them throughout their journey so far. They know I am always cheering for them and proud of them.

More CASA volunteers are needed in our area and across the state. Sadly, many children in the foster care system do not have CASAs to look out for them. CASAs advocate for the best interests of kids who are stuck in a system that does its best but is flooded with cases that just happen to involve innocent children who were born into situations they never chose. You have to take part in training classes and the amount of things you learn can be overwhelming but focus on the fact that you are there for the children and to make sure they have the best shot at a successful life. I wish I could have been there for that little girl and I pray you step up and help another innocent child just like her who is suffering in a situation beyond their control.

Please consider volunteering your time as a CASA. It has been one the most rewarding programs I’ve ever been a part of. The ADVO-KIDS CASA will hold their spring training sessions each Thursday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. March 28 through May 9. ADVO-KIDS CASA represents children in Pike, Fayette, Spalding and Upson counties and the circuit averages around 250 children in foster care each year. To find out more about becoming a CASA, contact info@advo-kidscasa.org or 770-668-4177.

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