CASA/GAL Jeanne Wilson started her pre-service training in February of 2021 with Boston CASA. Right from the start in training, Jeanne was a standout volunteer; asking pertinent questions and taking the time to listen and understand about the specific needs out Boston CASA youth have. Jeanne officially was sworn in as a CASA and received her first case in April of 2021. CASA Jeanne was assigned to a then 17-year-old youth involved in a Child Requiring Assistance (CRA case) in Suffolk Juvenile court. This CASA referral mentioned that the youth was struggling with both mental health and their gender identity. Like many of the youth involved in CRA cases, Jeanne’s youth’s mental health was impacting their ability to attend school. For Jeanne’s case, this youth had not engaged in school for over two years and had reported not only difficulties with academics, but also with peer relationships. When Jeanne first started on this case the youth was living at home with their mother and was not engaged in school or any therapeutic services. Despite an ongoing pandemic, Jeanne began connecting with her youth and their mother by going to their house in Boston. Jeanne patiently took the time to introduce herself to the youth’s mother and explain her role as the CASA working with the court, the Department of Children and Families (DCF) and the school. Jeanne was quickly able to build rapport with the youth’s mother who desperately had been asking for help and services for her child for many years. Unfortunately, the youth was not as open initially as their mother met their assigned CASA. Many CASAs look forward to the ideal situation of going out to lunch or a shopping at a mall with their youth, and often, we do not realize from the referral how much a child or youth may be struggling with mental health. In Jeanne’s case her youth was in such a place where they could barely engage with their mother let alone a stranger. On her first several visits to the home, Jeanne spent her time chatting in the living room with mom and then sitting outside the youth’s bedroom door slowly talking to them, often with little to no response. These first round of awkward “door talking” visits did not deter Jeanne and she was able to eventually build a positive relationship with her youth. Jeanne’s patience, and consistency in reaching out to her youth via text and phone eventually “opened the door” to a place where she was able to gain trust from her youth and they knew she was there to help them and their mother. Jeanne never questioned whether she was saying the right things to her youth, she understood that simply by being present and consistent was just what they needed at those moments.
Jeanne’s CRA case has faced a multitude of challenges and obstacles, including her youth being hospitalized, being removed from the home, and not receiving adequate mental health services. Despite these challenges Jeanne has remained a constant and consistent advocate for both her youth and their mother. In her role Jeanne was able to help the youth’s mother decipher court and mental health acronyms and terminology to better navigate a complex system. Jeanne’s dedication as a CASA is also seen in her behind the scenes work with collaterals including the parent and child’s attorney, DCF and the Boston Public School system. Jeanne always made herself available for meetings with collaterals and then took the time to explain and debrief the meetings with the mother and detail next steps. Jeanne consistently provided accurate and non-biased reporting and information between the family, DCF, attorneys and the court, often being the party on the case with the most up to date information. Jeanne’s detailed court reports allowed all parties on the case to know the timeline and history of the youth and Jeanne was often asked by attorneys to speak about case details during hearings. Both attorneys on the case have spoken highly of Jeanne’s work as a CASA to her supervisor on multiple occasions as well as mentioning her work with the family in court hearings!
In addition to the above mentioned CRA case, Jeanne took on another CRA case in January of 2022 for the sibling, a teen girl, of the same family. Despite working full-time, Jeanne made herself available for yet another set of professionals and attorneys. Jeanne’s prior experience working on the CRA case helped her jump right into attending school and collateral meetings for her second youth. Despite her cases being complex and bureaucratic, Jeanne has truly exemplified what it means to be a Court Appointed Special Advocate. She has become an “expert” on her two youth through consistently meeting them in person, getting to see the family in their own home and meeting with their mother to gather information as well as give support. Jeanne always utilized her Advocate Supervisor for support and guidance and attends the CASA support groups to share her wisdom and knowledge and also have a space to share her perspective on the cases.
Words alone cannot fully express our pride and gratitude for Jeanne’s empathy, dedication and advocacy for her two youth. We hope Jeanne’s legacy as a CASA will continue on and her story will inspire others to volunteer and be a voice for our youth and families.