March 17, 2022
CASA volunteer advocates for teen with autism to achieve permanency
SEATTLE, Washington – Thomas* is a youth who has had a long history with the child-welfare system since the time he was 7 years old. His mother required long-term psychiatric treatment, and due to Thomas’ autistic symptoms and at times unmanageable behavior, she was unable to maintain a safe and stable home for her son. After 56 referrals to child-protective services, Thomas’ mom surrendered her parental rights. During this same year, his father died of cancer.
Thomas experienced failed guardianship placements with an aunt and uncle, as well as his grandparents in Florida. None of his relatives knew how to manage his behavioral issues and special educational needs. At the age of 13, Thomas was returned to New Jersey and placed in a non-relative foster home with two dads. This is where he met his CASA volunteer, Anthony*.
Anthony, a very experienced CASA volunteer with CASA of Morris and Sussex Counties in New Jersey, was able to establish a friendly, trusting and professional relationship with both Thomas and his foster dads during their first meeting. Anthony quickly became a frequent visitor to the home and an avid advocate for Thomas. His communication and relationship-building skills brought several important stakeholders together as part of Thomas’ team. Thomas’ foster parents sent weekly emails to the full team with updates on his progress and needs. When frustrations occurred and services were not adequate, Anthony’s supportive and encouraging nature helped ease tensions to bring back the focus on what was in Thomas’ best interest.
At school, Anthony was instrumental in facilitating Thomas’ individualized educational plan and appropriate placement, as well as proper therapy. This allowed Thomas to feel comfortable and to develop a strong, loving relationship with his foster dads. His behavioral issues decreased, he welcomed his connection with Anthony and looked forward to their visits and talks. When Thomas turned 14 and was eligible for outings through CASA of Morris and Sussex Counties’ Fostering Futures program, Anthony always chose activities that were new for Thomas and included teachable experiences. Thomas felt comfortable opening up to Anthony – knowing he would not be judged, and that he would help him express himself to his foster dads without altercations.
In late 2019, Thomas was adopted by his foster family. Anthony remains involved in the family’s life, taking Thomas hiking, golfing, and on other adventures. Thomas’ parents often thank Anthony for the relationship he has with their son. It is a relationship that brings great joy to Thomas, and the dads are grateful for Anthony’s support and encouragement to overcome obstacles that could have veered them off the course of adoption.
March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month. We need more volunteers like Anthony across the country to advocate for children with developmental disabilities, making sure they receive the specialized support and services needed to improve their quality of life and well-being. Your support will help National CASA/GAL and our nationwide network recruit, train and support more volunteers so we can be there for more children in need.