How CASA Volunteers Create Opportunity – The Value in Small Steps
– Yael Leiner, January 2021
One thing we are taught when training to become a CASA is that the foster care system moves slowly. Often too slowly to protect a child’s best interest. Our role is often defined not by great leaps and bounds, but by a series of small consecutive steps toward a better life for a child. One such step for me in my journey as advocate for two boys, aged 10 and 11, was to advocate for them to switch schools. I had no idea the impact that one step would have on their lives.
With a history of fighting with other students and with teachers…most of the adults in their lives had given up hope for these two. They were moved from foster home to foster home. For some reason, always on their best behavior when their CASA Volunteer came around, I was able to see them as innocent, fun-loving, energetic boys. In effect, who they could be in the right environment.
From my first days on the case I was told by the case workers that school stability was paramount. For many reasons I came to disagree with this assertion, and brought it up in court to the Judge. The school counselors (who arguably knew the boys best) agreed with CASA: changing schools would be best for the boys.
After taking a tour of the potential new school, thoroughly impressed by both the facility and the teachers, I knew that moving them from their current school would be the best next step for them. Even though both of the boys said that they did not want to switch schools, I could tell was from nerves and not about the school itself, I advocated in CASA’s name that the switch should occur. With the support of the foster mother and teachers, CASA was ultimately able to persuade the case workers and it was decided that the boys should move. One more small step complete.
Despite how nervous they were at first to be going to a brand-new school, I received word immediately – from teachers, counselors, and administrators – how much they loved the boys and how well-behaved they were. I was in shock. No more conference calls or in-person meetings about their defiance and behavior issues!? They also showed a marked increase in participation in class – and made friends! This was a big step.
Most amazingly, a teacher in the new school shared with me her interest in fostering to adopt, and that she wanted to provide a permanent home for both of the boys. We talked about the process to become a foster parent and she went through the steps to prepare herself and her home. Once she was ready we went through a great amount of back and forth with the current foster parent about the move – and while it didn’t happen overnight, this last, most important step into permanency and out of foster care was completed.
Currently they are thriving – it is the first time I have seen them in a home that feels like a real family. They rollerblade with neighborhood kids, ride bikes, and play with the dog. As a CASA I had been advocating for them to have the opportunity to do physical activity but was never able to convince previous foster parents of the benefit of having them use their energy constructively. I never thought this day would come! And all because of the push to make a school change…
Sometimes by focusing on what is in front of you, by taking those small steps even when nothing seems to be working, you can realize the ultimate goal, in this case, adoption. I do believe that without the thoughtful steps taken by CASA these boys would not have changed schools, they may have been expelled or placed in congregate care…they would have never met their future mother.
-Yael Leiner became a CASA volunteer in 2018. She became a part-time CASA employee in 2019. Then, In January 2020, she took her commitment to CASA to the next level taking a job as Volunteer Coordinator in Philadelphia.