CASA NEWS

CASA NEWS

Volunteer Viewpoint: Jim Kelly  

My name is Jim Kelly and I have been a CASA volunteer for over two years. I worked at Exxon for thirty-three years and retired in 2001. I am active in my church and enjoy golf. I have always had a passion for helping children which is the motivation that led me to find out more about CASA and become a volunteer. 

I was assigned to my case in December 2014 to a fourteen-year-old boy named Adam. Adam and his siblings came into foster care because their mother left them at an acquaintance's home and did not return.  Adam’s mother, Michelle, has a long history of substance abuse and has been in and out of rehab during Adam’s time in foster care. Adam’s father, Daniel, is currently incarcerated. Adam’s maternal grandmother, Judy, was unable to provide care for Adam as he had behavioral issues that may have been the result of prior unreported sexual trauma. 

I first met Adam in a group home in Sulphur, Louisiana where my CASA supervisor, Susan, accompanied me on the initial visits. At first, it was difficult to find common interests with Adam but I quickly discovered his love of sports and that shared interest allowed us to bond. Over the last two and a half years, I have done my best to visit Adam monthly at the group homes in Sulphur and Alexandria. Those visits provided opportunities to foster trust between us and to ensure that he was okay while being so far away from home.

I am proud to say that Adam completed his program at the group home in Sulphur and moved to a less restrictive group home in Alexandria where he has flourished socially, academically, and athletically. Adam resided in the Alexandria group home from October 2016 to June of this year. He has been placed with Judy on a trial basis and so far the placement is working. 

My advocacy efforts centered on advocating for Adam to complete the therapeutic programs at both group homes so that he could maintain placement in a family setting. Moving forward, advocating for continued mental health services for him will be crucial in maintaining his current placement with his grandmother, Judy. I am hopeful Adam will start high school this fall, at sixteen years old, and maintain good grades.  

I cannot say enough good things about the group home in Alexandria that did an excellent job of preparing Adam to be in a family setting. With any journey, there are bumps along the way. There were a few instances when court dates and case meetings were set and then abruptly canceled which frustrated me. 

It is my sincere hope that we will see Adam on the basketball court and on the honor roll as he has come so far over the last couple of years.   

Names changed for confidentially purposes.  

Volunteer Viewpoint: Cori Dullnig 

My name is Cori Dullnig and I work as a physical therapist at the Neuromedical Center Rehabilitation Hospital. My husband and I relocated to Baton Rouge in 2014 and I was looking for a volunteer activity when my friend suggested CASA. In September 2015, I completed training and had an overwhelming feeling that this was something I had to do. 

My case involved two brothers, Damon and Carter, who entered foster care in 2015. Their mother was incarcerated and their fathers are unknown. They have three sisters that lived with other relatives during this time. Initially, the boys were placed together in a foster care home. Damon was moved because of repeated suspensions from school due to fighting. 

During this time, the boys’ case plan stated that they were to spend time together and with their three sisters twice a month. Unfortunately, the only time that the boys saw each other was during my visits. The boys truly love each other. I’ll never forget the first time I took Carter to pick up his brother. He practically jumped out of the car and ran out to give Damon a huge hug. In that moment, I realized that I was truly doing something important.

The boys did well in their respective homes and in school. Damon did not get suspended from school again after transitioning to his new foster care home. He started seventh grade and was on the football team. He was excited about the season and played in the school band. Carter was in fifth grade and enjoyed playing sports and games on the phone. While this case is straight forward, there were some struggles. The boys’ visitations did not occur as written in their case plan with each other or their siblings. I saw the boys three to four times a month; however, visiting hours at the foster care home changed making it more challenging to schedule those visits. It was a priority to facilitate those visitations so that the boys could maintain their strong bond during their time in foster care. 
 
The boy’s mother got out of jail at the end of July and the case went back to court. The boys thought that they would get to go home that day. The boys’ mother was doing well, worked on securing employment, but went back to jail in November because of a failure to appear in court. The blow of having to stay in foster care longer affected the boys, especially Damon. He started to act out once he knew he wasn’t going home and received another suspension from school at the end of the semester. Eventually, their mother was released from prison again and secured housing with a family friend. They boys returned home to their mother after Christmas.  

I learned a lot from my first case about how to develop a productive relationship with my CASA kids. I learned that these children are fragile. They may seem tough and act tough on the outside, but on the inside they just want things to return to normal and to go back living with their families. 

Names changed for confidentially purposes.  
Volunteer Viewpoint: Melder Burton 

My name is Melder Burton. I am now serving on my second CASA case which involves a boy named Luke who came into foster care shortly after birth.

I currently work for one of the Bayou Health Plans identified by the Department of Health and Hospitals as the Manager of Quality Analytics and Reporting. What I enjoy about my position is the ability to enact change. I have been in roles like this for most of my career because I truly love the opportunity to make a difference. My role at CASA is not much different; I still have the ability to enact change for the furtherance of the children I serve.

Luke was born with challenges. His mother, Julia, was homeless, unemployed and had problems with substance abuse. She had three other children – her sister, Laura, adopted two of them, and the third child is with the father. Luke went to the foster home of the Jacksons who do not have biological children and want so very much to make Luke a part of their family. Although Luke has challenges, I have been granted the opportunity to watch him overcome them. The milestones he has made are breathtaking. He is such a happy and healthy child, and the love of his foster parents is evident when you walk into the home.

Julia has not been very involved. I have only seen her twice in the nine months Luke has been in foster care. She has attended two family team meetings but has not attended any visits with her son. She will only surrender her rights if it means that Luke will be placed in Laura’s care. However, Laura has identified that she would be unable to care for Luke because of the four other children in her home –two of her own children and two of Julia’s other children. Furthermore, Laura clearly sees the bond Luke has made with the Jacksons, and she does not want to disrupt that attachment.

It has been very clear that Julia will not do what is required to regain custody of her son. In addition to missing scheduled visits, she continues to use drugs, is unemployed and does not have stable housing. As Luke’s advocate, I recommended the goal be changed to adoption.

In my work as a CASA, I have learned that family is not just the traditional one that is identified in the dictionary. In the 21st century, family is being redefined to meet the everchanging dynamics of today’s population. As much as I love advocating for CASA children, I also find joy in seeing families come together. Watching all parties put in the work to change outcomes is fulfilling. My CASA child has the opportunity to make a family whole.

The opportunity to be a voice for those who may or may not have one is so important. Knowing that you can make a difference in the life of a child so that they may have a brighter future is a true blessing. 

Names changes for confidentially purposes. 

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