There are nearly 16,000 children in Arizona spending the holidays away from their parents and often their siblings, too. While caretakers may try to make the day special, all the excitement of the holidays can leave children in foster care feeling very alone. With the help of the community, more kids could find a permanent home for future holidays.
Pamela was only 2½ years old when she first came into the system. As her mother struggled with substance abuse, Pamela would find herself in and out of foster homes. At age seven, Pamela was moving from place to place with her mother and sleeping in the back of a cold U-haul trailer. One evening while camping in a parking lot, the police came, arrested her mother and placed Pamela in the back of a squad car. She watched as her mother faded away as the car drove off.
Pamela’s lack of stable home life continued when she returned to foster care and was moved from home to home, some for a few days, some for a few weeks. She had an especially traumatic foster home experience where she was living in a three-bedroom trailer with as many as 16 children, including several infants. She was living without basic necessities, diapering and caring for babies, and enduring cruel punishments. The family was investigated but denied any abuse, and because Pamela had complained, she was marked a troublemaker and was sent to live in a shelter.
Pamela’s life began to change when she was assigned Susan as her CASA at age eight. Susan worked to gain her trust, knowing that after the unimaginable hardships Pamela had endured, she would have a difficult time trusting anyone. After two years of working together, Susan was able to use Pamela’s stories about her abusive foster home to help have it shut down. That experience demonstrated to Pamela that she and her voice mattered – that she could make a difference.
“I was so fearful that she would become discouraged. So almost every visit, I brought a story from a newspaper or magazine about a young person who was able to overcome the worst. The newspaper clippings became a running joke between us – Pamela says that she has kept every one of them,” Susan said.
With her CASA, Pamela found safety, stability and hope for the future. She was able to go to school, graduate and went on to college after earning a four-year scholarship. She hopes to become an American ambassador. Susan couldn’t be more proud of Pamela’s progress and is happy she will be using her voice to make a difference in the world.
To hear Pamela’s story and others, visit: youtube.com/watch?v=vCTaWH1sQPI
This holiday season, consider giving the gift of advocacy to a child in foster care. Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA volunteers) visit the children regularly and develop a relationship with them. They gather information on the case and report back to the judge to ensure each child has the resources and help they need while in the system and is on track to get into a permanent, loving home as soon as possible.
CASA volunteers are everyday community members who donate their time to be the eyes and ears of the judge in the community. Children with a CASA advocate spend less time in foster care and are half as likely to reenter care.
No specific background or training is needed to become a volunteer CASA advocate. Anyone 21 years of age or older who can pass a thorough background check and complete 30 hours of free training is welcome to apply.
This holiday season, commit the gift of time to a child. For more information on the CASA Program visit azcourts.gov/casaofcoconinocounty and click on “Apply Now” to submit your gift of time. FBN
By Cindy Payne
Amber, Nancy and Cindy @ CASA of Coconino County send special holiday greetings and thanks to Court Appointed Special Advocates in Flagstaff, Page, Tuba City and Williams: Connie, Sharon, Sylvia, Ann, Brian, Chris, Krista, Paula, Ann, Terry, Carrie, Kay, Wendy, Lynda, Mari, Marena, Marilyn, Rhonda, Elsie, Coeta, Joey, Carol, Lynn, Kathleen, Becky, Marti, Diane, Cindy, Fred, Kirsten, Sue, Miriam, Christine, Frank, Camarin, John, Dorothy, Jay, Jacelyn, Deborah, Richard, Elise, Gwen, Stephanie, Susan, Dawn, Faith, Susan, Lina, Laura, Lori, Karen, Angel, Idunn, Jennifer, Tracy, Marti, Debora, Gaylene, Susan, Christine and Galen. Thank you for making a difference in the lives of children in Coconino County – have a blessed holiday season.