A couple of weeks ago at an “Everyday Courage” event sponsored by the California Endowment I met a very caring and compassionate woman named Rosa Arevalo. Rosa works for CASA of Los Angeles a non-profit organization that recruits, trains, and supports CASA volunteers(Court Appointed Special Advocates) to transform the lives of abused and neglected children. It is the only organization in Los Angeles County providing court-assigned volunteer advocates serving foster children in the dependency court.
Rosa stands to my right and Nahtahna my left.
Due to having a week lay over in LA, after having embarked on the cross country bike ride, I was fortunate to be able to meet with Rosa at Edelman Children’s Court, joining us was Nahtahna Cabanes, Community Outreach Coordinator for CASA of Los Angeles. What they shared was new and alarming to me. Such as the fact that 25% of youth aging out of foster care will be incarcerated within two years, 65% of youth who age out of foster care have no place to live, 27% of the homeless population spent time in foster care, and as a former educator a data point that I find terribly troubling, 50% of foster youth experience five or more different placements resulting in behavior and mental health problems, poor academic performance and delinquency.
They also shared a story that gave me hope and speaks to the tremendous impact that service providers can have when they work through a trauma informed lens!
The story they related involves Maureen Wharton, a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for CASA of Los Angeles. To put the story in context we have to back to this past July — the FBI conducted a national sex-trafficking sting, dubbed “Operation Cross Country,” targeting underage victims of prostitution. The three-day raid rescued more than 100 teens, some as young as 13, including two in Los Angeles. The operation was noteworthy not just for highlighting how pervasive and persistent a problem child sex trafficking is–the FBI has rescued more than 2,700 victims since 2003–but also for revealing how disproportionately it affects foster children. While no one knows for sure how many minors are involved in sex trafficking in California, according to a Los Angeles Times about the sting, half come from the foster care system.
Maureen, or Mo, as her CASA youth like to call her, knows the situation well. For the last six years, she has been assigned to Shauna, now 15, a girl whose mother was a prostitute.For a while, it looked as if Shauna might be lost to a similar fate. Besides having been born with drugs in her system, she had witnessed her mother’s sexual encounters and had been molested at an early age. By the age of 5, she was already highly sexualized.
The dependency court lawyer assigned to Shauna requested a CASA when Shauna’s foster mother was reluctant to adopt her. “She wasn’t adoptable,” Mo said. “The foster mom was wonderful but she couldn’t keep up with Shauna’s conditions.”
These included reactive attachment disorder, a condition that caused Shauna to form relationships indiscriminately. One tragic example of it took place on the eve of her eighth-grade graduation. She was due to receive the highest honor in the school for science, but after a sexual incident with a boy on the school bus, her school refused to let her participate in the graduation ceremony. Shauna promptly ran away from home.
She was soon picked up by the police but none of her subsequent homes could handle her, either. She ran away again and again, and eventually, she got picked up by a pimp. For the next three months, she lived on the streets of Los Angeles, working as a prostitute.
Then Shauna was arrested and placed in juvenile hall. By this time, Mo was Shauna’s education rights holder, and this gave her the leverage to press the school district for a special psychological evaluation, known as an educationally related mental health services assessment.
“That’s when everything started to change,” Mo had related. “They realized she couldn’t go to a regular school. For her own safety, she would have to go out of state.”
Working together, Mo and the education attorney on the case found an intensive residential program to teach Shauna many of the essential life and family skills she lacked.
Such interventions are expensive, but when compared to the costs to society of failing to intervene–including crime and incarceration–it might very well be a bargain. It didn’t take long for Shauna to embrace it. Mo, for her part, has agreed to continue as Shauna’s advocate until Shauna is out of high school.
“I can see a little patch of blue sky in her life now,” Mo told them. “She looks like a kid again.”
In September a member of Aces Connection Chris Engel posted Therapeutic Foster Care: Exceptional Care for Complex, Trauma-Impac… highlighting a Spark ( State Policy Advocacy and Reform Center), 13-page brief that addresses the promising practice of therapeutic, or treatment foster care (TFC) and its success in delivering services to foster youth with severe mental, emotional, or behavioral health needs or for medically fragile or developmentally delayed youth.
To find out more about the great work that CASA does please visit their website at www.casala.org”