FIGHTING FOR TANYA
Painstaking Steps to Support Every Child. Earlier this year, a committed CASA volunteer, Amy Potter, came to me with concerns of neglect in a foster home. Naturally, we sprang into action. Of course, “springing into action" looks different in our minds than in reality, especially in the bureaucratic world of child welfare. Setting up the support systems to help a child newly entering foster care requires a series of small, thoughtful, and calculated steps. It requires great consideration given to the many moving parts while always keeping the child in the center of our decisions. This process leaves you wanting to scream “how isn't anyone else going crazy over this??!!"
We are. Much of the work that takes place behind the scene to help a child hinges on patience - waiting for calls backs, locating open homes, and lots of paperwork. After countless contacts, written reports, and investigations coupled with sleepless nights and a few tears, a child is finally housed somewhere safe. And yet there are still no guarantees of success. At CASA, we can only hope that our efforts facilitate a placement that gives the child a safe and healthy foster home. Our CASA volunteers help to promote success by speaking with the family who is expecting the child into their home. They talk about the challenges that may arise, join in with excitement and nervousness and, above all, share mutual hope for the child’s wellbeing.
Tanya’s Unsettled Journey. “Tanya” had been living in a neglectful foster home for over a year and she needed a more loving and supportive placement. Amy and I were discouraged by others who work in this complex system because they felt the battle to remove her would be too difficult. But we pressed on for Tanya’s sake. Despite all odds, we were successful in overcoming enough obstacles to have Tanya moved into a new home with first-time foster parents - brimming with optimism and love. Tanya was praised, given room to express herself and, importantly, given boundaries. Her grades improved and a closeness began to form with the family. Tanya was thriving.
Still we, along with her foster family, were pleading for counseling services for this vulnerable child. Time went by and soon Tanya’s underlying trauma began to express. The foster family needed services to help her, but the support was insufficient. Each incident prompted us to urge the Department of Family and Child Services (DFCS) to intervene. But in a system strained by too much work for too few caseworkers, the help didn’t come fast enough.
Tanya’s outbursts became physical and she endangered herself and others in the home. An altercation during the heat of a particularly bad episode spurred DFCS to move Tanya – again – into a new foster home after barely a month.
What is Success for a Child in Foster Care. It is nearly impossible to know the outcome of a child’s story while still in the middle. We hope, pray, and work towards a stable, loving, and peaceful home where a child feels safe and the foster family can meet her or his needs. Tanya’s second foster family provided her with more stability in that brief month than she had known in her nine years but they were not provided with the tools to be successful.
The child welfare system is overburdened and underfunded. It can be incredibly discouraging to do this work when you are faced with what appear to be unsurmountable obstacles. Our CASA volunteers are passionate and committed individuals who do not give up because they believe deeply that children in foster care deserve the very best. When Amy and I talked over Tanya’s wellbeing after the latest transition between foster homes, she was despondent, thinking she had failed Tanya in some way. She feared that removing her from the initial foster home, then into another and now, yet another caused further trauma. As Amy’s coordinator, I expressed the positive difference she made by fighting for Tanya and removing her from harmful circumstances.
The difficult part of what we do as CASA staff and volunteers, is that we cannot predict a child’s future. With our most earnest efforts combined with experience, we make decisions with the information at hand and go from there. Tanya’s story didn't have the happy ending we had hoped for, or did it?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR - SUSAN RYNCAVAGE