Stephen & Jim: What’s Needed In the Moment
Jim met Stephen in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic when Stephen was 16 years old and had been placed in probation custody. Jim was assigned by the court to hold Stephen’s education rights.
Stephen had been bouncing around from school to school and when Jim came on the case, he was receiving virtual instruction through a tutor. Stephen had been receiving special education services since the 2nd grade and his grandmother, his guardian, was struggling to find a placement that could meet Stephen’s educational needs.
Jim knew that Stephen was about to be transferred to an out-of-state residential placement and it was thought that Jim would have a more limited role in monitoring Stephen’s education from afar. However, as Jim did research into the proposed placements, he discovered that some of these out-of-state placements had a history of abusive behavior towards the children who lived there.
Jim knew that he had to fight for Stephen the way he’d fight for his own child, so he reached out to educational consultants who advised affluent families on out-of-state school placements. Informed by his research and discussions, Jim was able to recommend a best option for Stephen that would provide the safety, structure, and support Stephen needed. Jim shared “I’m struck by the gap in time and resources between what affluent Marin families have and what children in foster care and juvenile justice systems have. These professional resources are not in the equation for these kids”
With Stephen out of state, Jim became a support for Stephen’s grandmother, who was navigating complicated new systems on her own. Jim was able to be present with Stephen’s grandmother at school meetings to help advocate for Stephen. Jim spoke with Stephen’s grandmother frequently, and eventually she came to trust Jim and see that he was in the family’s corner. On one occasion, Stephen’s grandmother frantically reached out to Jim after she received notice after-hours that Stephen had run away from a facility. After calling the residential staff and the social worker with no response, Jim spent several hours contacting local police and others on site seeking assurance that Stephen was safe.
Jim continued to monitor Stephen’s progress out of state. After six months, Stephen turned a corner with school. He was doing better in his classes, had developed a strong, trusting relationship with his therapist and started consistently taking medication to address his emotional needs.
Stephen was able to return home to Marin just in time to spend holidays with his family. Both Stephen and his grandmother wanted to return to a Marin school that Stephen liked and felt familiar with. However, Stephen’s grandmother couldn’t get a response from the school. After many attempts, Jim simply showed up at the school and waited, and was eventually able to speak to the principal, advocating for Stephen to be considered and interviewed. Ultimately, Stephen was admitted to his school of choice and continues to pursue high school graduation. Jim continues to work closely with Stephen and his grandmother, ensuring Stephen also has continued connection to mental health supports.
Reflecting on his work with Stephen, Jim notes the power of the CASA role came from his ability to build relationships with Stephen’s family and team and to be the support they needed in moments of uncertainty and confusion. Jim notes “The system works least well for people who need it the most. Our formal structures aren’t good at assessing the need in the moment or delivering what’s needed in the moment” but CASAs can walk alongside children and their families to be a real, familiar, and consistent advocate when they need it the most.