I have been a CASA for over five years, and I am on my second case. You would think that would make me almost an expert, but the truth is that I am always muddling through the process. And no two cases are exactly the same. In fact, any case can take a dramatic turn from one day to the next.
My current minor is no longer really a minor. Justin turned 18 recently, and that rite of passage brought a whole new dimension to the case.
I had thought we were sailing in fairly smooth waters. Justin had been in a foster home for several months after living for many years in a group home. Although things were a bit shaky in the foster home, he was making plans to attend junior college in the fall and to remain in the dependency system as a non-minor dependent (NMD) under AB 12 – California Fostering Connections to Success Act. He was getting therapy and other support through his former group home. He even graduated from high school, which seemed like a long shot a year ago. His foster parents and I helped him complete the paperwork needed to enroll in junior college and receive financial aid.
Justin told everyone how much he was looking forward to his 18th birthday and becoming an “adult.” But the stress of that birthday was too much for a young person who has mental health issues and has lived as a dependent of the court for most of his life. Just before his birthday he experienced acute mental health-related challenges. He became angrier and angrier each day, and not long after graduation was removed from his foster home. After a weeklong “timeout” at a respite foster home, he returned to the foster family. His support team of therapists, foster parents, and CASA developed a plan to deal with problems that might occur at the home. Unfortunately, plans sometimes fail, and another incident occurred at the foster home. My 18-year-old “adult” lost his placement for good.
Justin is now staying at a temporary home while waiting for transitional housing. The wait is a long one. He has never lived on his own.
He must attend school in the fall (or get a job) as a condition of his extended foster care (EFC) or he will lose his non-minor dependent status under AB 12. He is still enrolled to take classes at a junior college in the fall, and I am keeping my fingers crossed that he will keep that commitment.
Justin is really the person who is the expert on the dependency system, so I asked him recently what I should write for this article. He said that he has had many adults in his life — social workers, therapists, and support teams. However, he said his CASA is the person who gets results the most quickly. And for that, he told me, he is very grateful. I guess I’m doing something right after all.
As for me, I have learned never to become complacent about my role as a CASA or the circumstances of my CASA youth. There are so many ways that things can change on each case.
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