"I believe that God was preparing me for this the whole time. My favorite part is working with the kids. They always appreciate your visit and that you are their friend and that they are important to you."
When working with the children she represents, Mary often takes them to play at the park, visits them at school or just has quiet time with them. Like many volunteers, Mary is committed to all of the children she serves and plans on continuing to serve abused and neglected children in this area as long as she can. As Mary says, "I can't imagine not doing this.
To see it had to be terrible. For the three young girls living there it had to have been unbearable. It was so bad that their mother’s boyfriend made his way to the police station and told officers there that their mother was high, unfit to care for the girls and he was leaving. When officers investigated they found three young, crying children covered in dirt, feces and a pregnant mother who was slurring her speech and unable to stand.
Child abuse and neglect cases are all about loss. Loss of a way of life, your family, everything you’ve ever known. To the children in these cases it is this profound sense of loss and grief that they deal with everyday. In the Morris* case, it was much the same. The girls were removed from their home, split up, and placed in different foster homes. In less than a month, the girls had lost a father, a mother, their home and then finally each other.
Mary, a 3 1/2 year veteran of Child Advocates, was assigned to the case as the girls’ CASA volunteer in the summer of 2006, shortly after the judge upheld the removal at the Adversary hearing. “The girls were very difficult,” Mary says. “The oldest one was angry about everything. I could certainly understand that. The other two cried constantly.” It was more than most could deal with. Mary visited them, at their different foster homes, even though the girls were not always receptive. “One of the girls threw a soda at me and I witnessed many tantrums and sudden outbursts. In the beginning I felt helpless. There was no way to comfort them,” Mary said. It was trips to the park, cards on special occasions, lunches at school and trips to the library with the girls that helped them decide that Mary was worth trusting. “It took a while before they were willing to let down their guard and just have fun and talk to me.”
Janie, the oldest, was placed with Meliene, a single mom with hope of helping a child in need. “She was my first foster child and we made a real connection.” Meliene didn’t have room for all of the girls since she had children of her own still living at home. In most removal cases every attempt is made to place the children with relatives. Following a home study, the girls were reunited and placed together with a relative in Houston. “I kept tabs on all of them after they left,” said Meliene. When the other child, Jenny* was born Meliene took her in. “Four months after Jenny was born, they asked if I could take her. I didn’t hesitate,” says Meliene.
The Houston placement didn’t go well. Because of the distance there was a local CASA visiting them in person on a regular basis. Mary had to be content with just talking to the girls over the phone. “I called them often and we had good conversations on the phone. I sent them little gifts and cards to make sure that they knew I was thinking about them.” Mary spoke with teachers who were reporting poor performance and behavior problems as well as problems with the adults. The local CASA was reporting that the oldest child was violent, hurting animals and having nightmares. CPS acknowledged that there were problems but they were satisfied with the placement and were ready to close the case, keeping the children right where they were. Just when things had gotten really bad, they got worse. Ms. Morris died of a drug overdose. The girls had lost their mother forever.
There was a placement review hearing and CPS was recommending that the relatives in Houston be granted permanent managing conservatorship of the girls. Mary fought that recommendation in and out of court, working with attorneys and the caseworker to convince them that the girls needed to be moved. The relatives finally acknowledged the problems, changed their minds and told CPS to come and get the girls. The next day, Mary was in the car with the CPS worker on her way to Houston.
The girls never looked back. Meliene was excited that the girls were coming back to the area and that they were looking for a foster home. Two other foster children had just left their home, their own daughter had turned 18 and moved out, and now there was room for all of them. “We were so excited, things just worked out perfectly.” Mary was very pleased that Meliene wanted the girls. “Once they were with Meliene there was no more violence, no more trouble at school. “We got the girls into counseling and they really began to improve.” On one visit with the girls Janie said to Mary, “Don’t ever take me back there.” Mary remembers, “I knew exactly where ‘there’ was. It was the only time she ever spoke of her time with her family in Houston. I told her, ‘I’m the one that picked you up, I’m not taking you back.’”
“Mary has always been there,” says Meliene. “She’s helped me with the girls in so many ways. Doctor visits, all kinds of issues. You can tell that she really loves them. The girls think of her as a grandmother.” Mary visited them at school, helped on trips to the doctor out of town, read books with them that dealt with problems the girls had, all to ensure that they were well cared for, happy and on their way to a good life. Four months later Meliene told the girls that she wanted to adopt them. The younger three were ecstatic. Janie was unsure. She was still having visits with her father and he had told her that he wanted her. She kept asking him to let her be adopted. He kept saying no. He relinquished his rights for the other girls, but was unwilling to let Janie out of his life. Then Meliene did something extraordinary – she offered to allow him access after the adoption. “The more people there are to love them the better,” she said. He signed the papers.
Child abuse and neglect cases are all about loss. This one is no exception. But this one is also about gain. Through the hard work of a CASA and the love of a foster family, four girls now have an adoptive family, a CASA “grandmother”, a biological father and other biological relatives in their lives. In the end, the children lost their mother and a chaotic way of life. But they gained a circle of adults that love them, care for them and will continue to give them everything they ever need.