Spotlighted CASA of 2020
Claire Lima has been a CASA for the past year and a half for a 17-year old youth. Claire has developed a wonderful relationship with this young person, who identifies as LGBTQ and uses they/them/their pronouns. This young person has been the subject of two separate truancy Child Requiring Assistance (CRA) filings and their parents also reported them as a stubborn child and filed a new CRA, which is the case that Claire was appointed to as a CASA in June 2019. Claire is the only person on this case that speaks the parents’ first language, Portuguese, and from the very beginning, Claire was able to uncover important information that none of the other providers were able to about the parents’ understanding of their youth and their struggles. In conversations with the parents, it began to be revealed to Claire that there was a concerning disconnect for the parents regarding their understanding of the youth’s mental health struggles and of the importance of their roles in supporting their youth’s identity in an affirming way.
Whenever this young person attends their CRA hearings, they always give Claire a big hug and have a huge smile on their face. Their excitement and connection to Claire is evident on their face. Their relationship is special in and of itself, but it becomes even greater and more meaningful in light of the teen’s family not supporting their identify and their insistence on referring to them with the female name there were assigned at birth rather than the gender neutral name of their own choosing. In addition, this young person struggles with complicated mental health challenges and is selectively mute. Despite this challenge with communication, the youth has really opened up to Claire, and Claire is now one of the few people with whom they are actually verbal. When this young person is struggling and becomes mute, Claire hasn’t hesitated to come up with creative ways to communicate with them, which have ranged from exchanging long email threads to using a journal in which the two writing their feelings and concerns to each other. Like many of our volunteers, Claire comes to Boston CASA without a background in child welfare so it is extra impressive that she was undaunted by the challenges with communicating with her teen and continued to interact in a variety of ways until she found success. Sometimes creativity outweighs experience.
Early on in this case, it was apparent to Claire that this young person was highly intelligent but was struggling to attend and engage in school due to their mental health. Claire spearheaded a series of educational evaluations for this young person to ensure that they were receiving all the support they needed in school. The results of the evaluations confirmed that, though their academic and IQ scores were above average, their emotional functioning served as a major
obstacle in allowing them to perform to their capabilities and interfered with their daily functioning. Therefore, Claire helped facilitate the transfer of this young person from a public school to a co-educational therapeutic day school, where they have been thriving! At this young person’s previous school, they were repeating the 9th grade for the third time. At their new school, this young person has since completed 60 credits through credit recovery and will be entering the 2020-2021 academic year as a Senior! The school principal even commented “I have not seen this type of commitment in a very long time… it’s exceptional!!” Thanks to Claire’s educational support and advocacy, this young person has now begun to express an eagerness to research and submit applications to colleges and universities.
Over the past year, Claire has worked tirelessly with this young person’s attorney, providers, and DCF to ensure that they live in a more appropriate placement. Claire’s efforts have led to the youth being placed at an LGBTQ group home in Western Massachusetts. For the first time since being placed in DCF custody, this young person feels they are living in an environment in which they are supported by peers and adults alike, all thanks to Claire’s advocacy and acceptance of their identity. Perhaps the most heartfelt and touching evidence of the impact that our CASAs have on the lives of their children and youth is found in a courageous letter that this young person wrote to present at a Child Requiring Assistance hearing. Because they had transitioned back to being completely nonverbal, the youth wanted to voice their updates and concerns to the Judge in writing. In the incredibly powerful words of this young person: “Whatever comes out of this, whether I go with my parents or not, one thing I plead you to do is let Claire be my CASA worker. There were many times I thought about running [or] harming myself, but Claire has always been there for me…what I am trying to say is that Claire is the most important person in my life, and she has pushed me to live on.”
There is nothing else that can or needs to be said. Thank you so much, Claire, for your presence in this young person’s life and your dedication to what they have needed.
Presented this 22nd day of October 2020 by the entire staff of Boston CASA
Terry M. Craven
Hon. Terry M. Craven