CASA Success Stories

A CASA volunteer provides a child who is in the court system due to abuse or neglect with a caring advocate and a reliable adult who gets to know them and speaks up for them in court. These stories illustrate how CASA volunteers change lives.

our kids

Sammy's Story

This year, Sammy* will spend the holidays like many of your children, grandchildren, and other kids you know—perhaps like you did. She’ll be surrounded by loved ones, excited to open presents, and maybe she’ll get to indulge in sweet chocolatey treats. She is in a loving home because of the loving support of this community.

Sammy was an abused and neglected child in our community whose parents were unwilling or unable to care for her. At the age of two her case was opened with the Department of Social Services and at three the Superior Court Judge assigned her a volunteer advocate named Diane*. Diane connected with and advocated for Sammy, and most importantly was a trusted and stable presence in her otherwise chaotic life. Sammy had seen things no child should.

One night, the police found Sammy and her baby sister crying hysterically in a blood spattered motel room as a disheveled stranger lay on the ground. The baby was filthy and hungry with no food and a bottle of spoiled, moldy baby formula. Mom was incoherent and at four years old, Sammy and her sister were removed from her birth mother for the second time. Weeks later she asked Diane, “Who will take care of me when I’m five?”

Diane didn’t know but assured Sammy that as her CASA volunteer, she would always be there.

Soon after, the children were placed in a foster home where it became clear to Diane that Sammy was unhappy. Diane reported her observations to the newly assigned social worker and after an investigation, the girls were moved to a safe, nurturing home where they remained until they were adopted.

Today Sammy is five and thriving in her forever home with her healthy baby sister. At the adoption hearing the social worker, with tears in her eyes, hugged Diane and said, “I couldn’t have done it without you.

Annie's Story

Marie*, a dedicated CASA advocate, has been assigned to Annie*, a young lady who will soon be 18 years old. Marie began advocating for Annie in 2008 when she was 10. She had been removed from her home because of the drug addiction of both parents and the abuse and neglect she experienced. Marie has shared in Annie’s challenges, celebrations, and often had to travel long distances to visit her when she was placed in foster homes out of the county.

Annie had two other CASA advocates assigned to her before Marie. The first advocate was assigned to her when her case originally came under the jurisdiction of the court in 2004 and closed in June of 2006. Annie’s case was reopened in September, 2006, and she was then assigned her second CASA Advocate.

Since childhood, Annie struggled with severe behavioral problems and continually missed significant periods of school. Since 2004 she experienced over 16 changes in her foster placement sites. Most of the placement sites were in therapeutic group home settings where she could be provided a higher level of care due to her behavioral problems.

In May 2015, Annie was asked to leave the foster group home due to her challenging behavior, and she was moved back to San Luis Obispo County. During that same year Annie disappeared for a period of time and was thought to have been abducted by another foster youth’s parent who fled with both minors. Fortunately through an FBI investigation Annie was found safely in another state and returned to San Luis Obispo County.

Through each move and during the time Annie was missing, Marie followed up on her school progress and her academic credits. Marie made phone calls to all her schools so that Annie’s school credits would follow her to the next school. One of Annie’s biggest struggles was that she had no desire to participate in school. Upon her return to San Luis Obispo County, Marie met weekly with Annie and encouraged her to focus on her education. She was later astonished to hear from Annie that she was enjoying her community school and had turned a corner in her attitude about school.

Currently, Annie is placed in a Transitional Housing Placement Program (THPP). With Marie’s help, she is engaged in her schooling and has caught up with her school credits and will graduate in June. In addition, she has been able to maintain a part-time job with a local fast food restaurant and loves her co-workers and managers. She is thriving in her home, her work, and in school. During Marie’s time advocating for Annie she was always there for her. Even during her times of struggle, Annie was able to communicate with Marie and share her hopes and dreams. They always looked forward to meeting with each other. Through all of the ups and downs Marie never gave up on Annie, and now Annie’s future is bright!

Aaron's Story

By the time Aaron* was 14 years old both his parents had passed away. Aaron was living with a relative who was rarely home and would physically abuse Aaron. Eventually, the relative was arrested and Aaron was placed in a foster home.

Aaron struggled over the loss of his parents, especially his dad. After his dad passed away, Aaron wanted some of his father’s belongings to remember him by, such as his tennis rackets, but they were disposed of and Aaron never got anything.

Aaron was assigned a CASA Advocate, George*. Aaron and George both share a love of tennis, so it was a perfect match. Aaron wanted to join the tennis team, but was struggling in school and his grades were not good enough to join the team. George arranged a meeting with some of the staff at Aaron’s school to figure out how to support Aaron academically. George helped arrange tutoring and extra help for Aaron.

Aaron worked really hard to raise his grades so he could join the tennis team. Now, his grades have improved drastically and he just made the Varsity Tennis team. In addition to making the Varsity Tennis team, Aaron has gained more self-esteem and plans to go to college.

Katie's Story

Katie* was eight years old and living with her grandmother when she was placed under the protection of the juvenile court due to severe neglect. She had been shuffled between many friends and relatives after her mother died from a drug overdose when Katie was just five years old. Most of the friends and relatives who had put a roof over Katie’s head had criminal histories and drug abuse problems.

When Court Appointed Special Advocate volunteer Janice Smith* first met Katie, her academic performance was suffering and she was withdrawn and quiet. It was Janice who sat in the library with Katie as she completed her projects, who helped with homework, and who made sure that Katie received extra help in the classroom. Janice also made sure that Katie was seen by a pediatrician, and that she attended counseling sessions with a licensed therapist.

Two years after Janice received the case, Katie’s grandmother, the person Katie was closest to, was diagnosed with cancer. Katie helped care for her grandmother until she died. Katie was then rotated through several different foster placements, often with little notice and less time to say goodbye to her foster families. Once, after Janice had arrived at Katie’s new placement, Katie confessed that she was worried she would get lost in all of the moves and that Janice would not be able to find her. “What if they move me to Nipomo?” Katie asked. Janice replied, “Even if they move you to China, I will find you. You will never be lost.”

Katie’s CASA volunteer made all the difference in her life and gave her a chance to move past the difficulties she faced with a caring adult by her side. Please make a donation and / or consider becoming a volunteer today.

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our volunteers

the Dunlap's Story

Pam Dunlap meets with a special elementary-school-age child every Wednesday after school. Sometimes they go to McDonald’s, or to a softball game. Occasionally they work on homework. But mostly they talk.

A passerby might assume this is Pam’s grandchild, but that’s not the case. In many ways, Pam serves as this child’s protector and problem solver. As a volunteer for CASA, Pam works as an advocate for children who have been removed from their homes by court order and placed under the care of the courts. CASA volunteers like Pam and her husband Roy are trained to become the voice of a child, acting on his or her behalf as an officer of the court.

“It’s important to become buddies to these kids and teach them things and provide whatever kind of support they need,” says Pam, a nine-year advocate. “I talk with parents, teachers, social workers, doctors, attorneys, dentists, other family members and their attorneys. Sometimes we have team decision-making meetings where we sit down with all involved and decide what to do.”

“If we see something is not going right, we try to set it straight,” she added. “I have a legal obligation to do the best job I can. The goal is to figure out what’s in the best interest of the child up to and including permanent placement – either reuniting them with parents or adoption.”

For Pam’s husband Roy, a seven-year advocate who has also volunteered as a Big Brother, CASA work is consuming but welcome. “A lot more is expected of you, and much more of your time,” he said. “I get a real good feeling about being a volunteer for CASA.”

Roy recalled one child, whose case had come to a happy conclusion, who asked to address the court. This child expressed to the entire courtroom a heartfelt gratitude for Roy’s kindness and help throughout what had certainly been a very painful and personal process. There were no dry eyes left in that courtroom.

For both Pam and Roy, the reward is to see everyone in a family grow from the experience – parents reunited with their children after learning how to be the best parent they can be.

Mary's Story

A CASA volunteer is often filling many missing gaps in a child’s need for attention and representation, and volunteer Mary Sharpe is no exception. During Mary’s first CASA case, she found herself taking on the role of tutor, mentor, listener, and even well intentioned detective. In a case where there had been four different social workers in 15 months, Mary best describes her role as a committed and consistent adult friend to the 13-year-old boy for whom she advocates.

“I provide some stability,” Mary said. “I show up when I say I will and try to listen with an open mind. He hasn’t had a whole lot of that in his life.”

The teen boy that Mary works with is one of seven children taken from their mother’s care due to chronic substance abuse and neglect issues. Fortunately, he was placed in a caring foster home. At one point in the case, however, the court began to look at reunifying the mother with her son, as she had apparently been showing compliance in her drug treatment.

With anxious feelings about this decision, Mary made some phone calls to check up on the mother’s involvement in the Narcotics Anonymous program. She discovered that the mother had been forging initials and feigning participation in her substance abuse treatment.

Mary included this vital information in her report to the court. A drug test confirmed her suspicions: the mother tested dirty. As a result of these findings, the court deemed the decision for reunification premature, and agreed that continued placement in foster care was in the best interest of the teen.

“It hurts my heart to dig out lies,” Mary said. “However, my responsibility is to the child and ensuring that he is in a stable, loving home.”

Beyond securing safe placement, Mary continues to be a reliable and supportive friend to the boy. When he was struggling in school, Mary called on her skills as a former English teacher and met weekly with the teen to help guide his preparation for an important upcoming term paper. The after school ritual was enjoyable, and Mary witnessed the boy’s excitement build as the project began to materialize. He called Mary on the day he received his “A+” grade.

“The success in front of his peers was a giant leap for him,” Mary said. “I have seen incredible growth and security settle in.”

Mary said that her greatest measure of success would be to look down the road and see the young man for whom she advocates as a healthy, contributing human being.

“We live in a nice community,” she said. “It’s a great feeling to know that you have played a role in making it that way.”

Since the completion of this article, this teen boy’s foster parents have become his guardians. They continue to facilitate contact between him and his mother, leaving the door open to eventual reunification should she be successful in her drug rehabilitation program and the boy wishes to return to her care

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