These are unsettling times for us all. The stock market is struggling daily, people are losing their homes and their jobs; families are in dire need, and many are simply wondering how to make ends meet. In the midst of this financial crisis, our minds are almost overfilled with so much to think about. But we must still be mindful not to forget some of the most innocent victims of the recession – children in foster care.
This financial crisis carries double jeopardy for children. Case histories indicate that the stresses of families already struggling with financial difficulty can be exacerbated by recession, resulting in higher levels of child abuse and neglect that can potentially result in children being placed in the care of the state as foster children. On the other hand, budget cuts limit or eliminate altogether programs designed to help children in foster care and their families.
Just as we are seeking solutions for the state of our economy, we should also be seeking ways to ensure a hopeful future for our young people in foster care. As resources of social and government agencies shrink, individual citizens like you and I need to stand up for foster children so they can stand a chance for a bright future.
One way to get involved is to become a Court Appointed Special Advocate or CASA volunteer (sometimes called volunteer guardians ad litem). These are everyday heroes who strive to find a safe, permanent and loving home – whether a biological or adoptive home – for a child living in temporary foster care. Most importantly, the CASA volunteer provides a nurturing heart for each individual child they serve. Often the CASA volunteer is the one stable, caring adult in these children’s lives.
And CASA works. A recent audit conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General demonstrates that CASA volunteers make a difference in the lives of foster children. Statistics indicate that children with a CASA volunteer are far more likely to find the services and resources they need and are far less likely to languish in long-term foster care. Most importantly, less than ten percent of children with a CASA volunteer re-enter the foster care system.
Let me put a face to these statistics: Megan Wolvert, who I have met, was a child when she entered foster care and has grown into an amazing and successful young woman. At just 16 years old, Meghan was plunged into the foster care system following allegations of abuse and neglect at the hands of her mother and stepfather. She would spend the next two years bouncing from foster home to psychiatric hospital to group home placement – 21 placements in all – always feeling transient, always feeling helpless. It was while she was hospitalized following a suicide attempt that Meghan met Karen, her CASA volunteer.
Although this victimized child developed a tough self-protective shield, Karen worked hard to break through and ultimately a relationship of mutual respect did develop. For the next two years, Karen faithfully visited Meghan in every placement to make sure she had what she needed and felt safe.
Soon, Meghan began to trust Karen with her dream to go to college. With Karen’s support, Meghan located a GED preparation class, worked hard to learn the material, and passed the test. She got a job and a small apartment, and even did some volunteer work for CASA of New Hampshire. Using that self-generated momentum, Meghan applied to Lesley College in Cambridge, Mass. in February of 2003 and was accepted.
The world is filled with Meghans who, with the help of a caring adult in their lives, can make that move from a world of hurt to one of hope.
Because our young people still need us, regardless of the state of the economy, I encourage you to get involved in the life of a child in foster care. Whether you become a foster parent, or an adoptive parent or a CASA volunteer, you can make a lifelong change for a child who needs you.
You don’t need money to get involved in the life of a child. You just need time, a caring heart and desire to make a lifelong difference for a child who needs you.