SFCASA Client Profile: James
The day May gave birth to James, her husband demanded that he be given up for adoption. May refused, the father disappeared forever, and an emotionally fragile May sank into depression. She lost her job, and became—with her young son—homeless. May would habitually beat James, threaten to kill him and herself, lose and regain custody of him, and begin the whole cycle again until James’ grandfather grudgingly agreed to move the little boy into his home.
Neither the grandfather nor his wife spoke English, and James didn’t speak Cantonese. With no one to talk to, help with his homework, and with nowhere to play, James spent his time alone in a cramped bedroom. The grandfather called James “an unlovable child.” When his Child Welfare Worker observed James’ extreme isolation at the young age of four, his case was referred to SFCASA, and Cathy was assigned as his Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA).
Cathy took James out each week, and James liked her immediately. Cathy was the only adult in his life who paid him any positive attention. Connecting with another person was a pleasure for James, and he relished opportunities to eat American food with Cathy—he hated the traditional food of his grandparents. Cathy’s visits enabled James to escape the unhappiness of “home.”
Cathy met frequently with the adults in James’s life including May, her therapist, and with James’ attorney. Having witnessed May’s extreme mood swings, Cathy recommended to the court that reunification not take place until the young mother made significant progress in addressing her mental health challenges. For James, Cathy’s intervention meant an end to the cycle of abuse and neglect, but his mother and grandfather were angered by her recommendation. It took months before Cathy gained their trust as a respectful ally who had James’ best interests at heart. Eventually May accepted Cathy’s help in securing mental health services and Cathy visited May each week to encourage her progress.
Cathy’s weekly visits were a welcomed respite for James’ grandfather, and in time, he noticed positive changes in his grandson. James lacked social skills as a result of having spent so much time either alone or ignored. Cathy worked with James on everything from table manners to valuing his Chinese-American identity, and James began not only to enjoy his grandparents’ cooking, but to request it…in Chinese! His grandfather began to learn English, and most importantly, to show real affection toward his grandson.
With involvement in a mental health program, May showed signs of growing emotional stability. Her visits to James increased in frequency, and in time, she was visiting daily—taking him to school in the morning, and tucking him in at night. After two years, Cathy was pleased to report to the court that May was “a responsible and loving mother.” The judge granted reunification.
Cathy is now a CASA to another child, but remains in touch with James and May. Without Cathy as his CASA, it is likely that the story of James would be a tragic one. But instead of isolation and violence, the picture today is positive: a loving mother, a happy child, an affectionate grandfather, and Cathy, a former CASA and trusted friend.