Trigger warning: suicide
It was her secret. But can a six-year old really keep a secret, especially when it’s gnawing at her? Little “Angel” took quickly to her visiting volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA), who visited at court direction since her mom, now removed, had threatened to kill herself and possibly everyone else. Angel and her younger brother seemed calm living with their dad in their trailer home, despite it needing a good bit of repair. But there were telltale signs. Dad cited that the pressures from mom’s behavior, as well as his intermittent employment, affected their home life.
Angel and her brother couldn’t wait to break out the crayons, colored pencils, and coloring books the CASA would bring. How little Angel loved to draw. So the CASA visited Angel at school. They talked. “Can you draw something for me?” And she did. “Can you tell me a story about it?” And she did. Tumbling out of Angel were the shadows at night that moved, her fears, the distance she now maintained at school, her lowered performance. Although dad knew Angel harbored dark thoughts, he didn’t appreciate her need to talk about them. The CASA reached out a hand to Angel. And she took it. Eventually, the CASA’s report to the court led to formal counseling for Angel, which helped with the shadows.
As EAC Network’s Suffolk CASA Case Coordinator, I hear daily the stories of children’s lives sundered by the opioid epidemic, alcoholism, or out of control parental anger, anxiety, and fears. The children may be in foster care, with one or both biological parents or a relative, or sheltered in a respite program. Often they’ve bounced from eviction to relatives to friends to a shelter. Routine health and dental care have long ceased. They may have missed one, or even two years of schooling. Unsure and insecure, they harbor a deep hurt. Ashamed and angry, they aren’t sure whom to trust, whom to hold tight. Attorneys and caseworkers ply their craft with due diligence as best they can, protecting the legal rights and interests of parents and children, searching for solutions, while managing heavy caseloads.
The CASA volunteer, thoroughly vetted and trained, handles only one or two cases at a time. He or she spends the time listening, observing, understanding, advocating, and striving to give a voice to the child.
Angel needed someone. Someone she felt comfortable with, who would take the time to help her express her feelings in her own way. Angel needed a CASA: a caring adult in a child’s life who helps reopen pathways away from darkness.
To learn more about the CASA program, click here.
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Howard Lerner has been with EAC Network’s CASA program since 2015 and brings to the program years of previous CASA volunteer experience. He spent more than 30 years as a U.S. Public Health Service commissioned officer, which involved working with low-income, under-served populations.