For three years, before I had my own children, I was a Court Appointed Special Advocate to two little girls living in the foster care system. As a CASA, I visited these girls weekly—at home, at school, and at daycare—and attended all court hearings relevant to their placement. My goal was to make sure they were safe and thriving—both in their foster home and when they visited their mother, who was overcoming a series of difficulties in her life. The role as a volunteer CASA is not unlike that of a social worker—get to know the children, learn their routines and habits, and hope that they come to see you as someone they can trust. If many cases, they will confide in you things they might not confide to a foster parent or a social worker, situations that could become harmful or life-threatening.
I loved these little girls. We played paper dolls and “running away to Hollywood”. I watched them enter kindergarten and learn to read, sounding out each word with furrowed brows, and then graduate to chapter books. These girls were fortunate to have a caring foster family. But in their guardianship situation they were not so lucky. They still linger in the foster system after many years, caught in a court battle that remains unresolved.
It was heartbreaking to watch these girls struggle to feel safe, to understand where they belonged, to wonder if they were wanted. Now that I am a mother to two little girls of my own, I look back on those years I spent as a CASA with new eyes. It was what drew me to support the Pajama Program, an organization that provides new pajamas and new books to children like the ones I knew. The children they help are in foster care, or living in shelters, or living in poverty, or have been abandoned. These are kids who do not get tucked into bed. Sometimes these pajamas and books are the only new things they have ever received. Pajamas, and books, help them feel warm and secure at a time when they are most vulnerable.
I can’t imagine what it would have felt like to have never owned a book as a child, to have never had those long Sunday mornings in bed reading, dreaming up new worlds. If you would like to get involved, visit the Pajama Program site to donate, sponsor a book drive, or volunteer at their NYC reading center. Or go here to learn about volunteering as a CASA.