Two years ago I was lucky enough to become involved in an amazing volunteer program, CASA 20th. Shortly after being sworn in as a CASA 20th advocate I got my first case, a 14 year old girl in foster care for the third time. Sophie had so much working against her and sadly many had already given up on her. I reviewed years of family history, medical records, DHS reports and any other document that could give me insight and help me connect with Sophie. With everything she had been through I knew it would not be an easy task to gain her trust. She had been let down time and time again by her parents, friends, “the system”, basically everyone she had ever counted on. She fully expected that I would be like everyone else and disappear after a few months. I knew if I was going to help Sophie, I must prove to her not only that I was here to stay, but that I was 100% devoted to her best interest and earn her trust.
She was placed four hours away which made visits difficult but I made the drive at least once a month, demonstrating to Sophie how devoted I was to her case. Because she was so far away, regular, almost daily phone calls were also essential to building a relationship with her. Sophie recognized these small gestures of caring and it didn’t take long before she began opening up to me and I could see the smart, generous, caring girl under the mask of toughness she wore.
In the two years I’ve been Sophie’s CASA advocate she has been through 5 placements, 5 caseworkers and 2 judges leaving few people to provide a stable and consistent support system. I’ve watched her persevere through the many ups and downs of growing up in the foster care system with minimal family support, through having her parents in prison, through social anxiety and struggles with her education due to her history and learning disorders. At age 17 Sophie was at a tenth grade level and not progressing towards graduation. I began searching for an appropriate GED program near her placement. I found a program that also offered a smaller classroom setting as well as behavioral and counseling services and she was eventually enrolled. Finally in an appropriate classroom setting for her, Sophie flourished impressing and inspiring her fellow classmates and teachers.
Other than her mother, most of Sophie’s family lived out of state, leaving little chance of a relative placement or support system. However, Sophie did have a “father-figure” she had known for years and who was willing to help her in any way he could. He and I worked together to provide a healthy and consistent support system she so desperately needed. With these positive influences in her life, Sophie began showing her true potential. Despite all the hardships she had faced in foster care, when Sophie turned 18 she opted to remain in care and take advantage of all the opportunities available to her, first and foremost her education. Sophie earned her GED and I began working diligently to guide her through the college admission process and keep her motivated. I made appointment for her, attended the appointments with her and assisted her with all necessary paperwork and applications.
Today, the rebellious teenager I met just two short years ago is in a healthy and loving long-term placement, has learned to set boundaries with her parents to maintain a healthy relationship with them and is enrolled as a full-time college student. I have witnessed Sophie’s journey as she transformed from a struggling girl to a responsible young adult, still learning and growing, inspiring everyone she meets along the way as she overcomes barriers most of us could not imagine. I feel so blessed to have been a part of her journey….and it’s only just the beginning.