Tomas was born with heroin in his system because his mother used the drug during her pregnancy. She had a long history of substance abuse and had lost custody of her other children. In four months, she also lost custody of Tomas, who went to live with his father. He has not seen his birth mother since, and his father raised him. Sylvia, a neighbor and his father’s friend, watches Tomas when his father was at work. He calls Sylvia Mom.
Tomas is now twelve-years-old, in the sixth grade and small for his age. He started acting out. One afternoon he got in trouble and was supposed to stay after school, but he skipped out, so his father was notified. The next day, Tomas was brought to the school social worker. Tomas became upset and said he was afraid to go home that night. The school asked Tomas if there were someone he would like to call since he didn’t feel safe going home. He asked to call Sylvia. The Department of Children and Families (DCF) determined that Tomas was not safe at his father’s, and he went to live with Sylvia. She now officially functions as the boy’s foster mother. Tomas’s behavior continued to deteriorate at school. He spent most of his time wandering the halls and was failing all of his classes.
A judge from the Suffolk County Juvenile Court contacted Boston CASA to appoint a volunteer to monitor Tomas’s case. That was when Martha started working with Tomas.
“My time with Tomas began with my taking him to and from appointments,” says Martha. Tomas had many appointments – with DCF social workers, therapists, school teachers and counselors. “I was building a relationship with him, building trust. We spent a lot of time together, and he could tell I was on his side.”
Martha understood the importance of working with Sylvia. As a foster parent, Sylvia was not allowed in the court proceedings about Tomas. She had no voice to present her ideas about Tomas, nor was she present to hear the court recommendations intended to facilitate the child’s care and healing. Martha started coaching Sylvia about being the kind of caregiver Tomas needed. Sylvia had an adult daughter who was disabled with compromised motor skills and lived at home. Tomas showed great responsibility helping Sylvia feed and take care of her daughter. Martha helped Sylvia understand the importance of ensuring that Tomas attended school every day. She helped Sylvia become more engaged with the people at school who were working for the best interests of Tomas. Martha also helped Tomas enroll in Sylvia’s Food Stamps.
“Tomas needed a CASA because so many people were involved in his case. As a CASA I could help coordinate the multiple parties, especially around education and health resources,” says Martha.
She made sure that Tomas received an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), which increased the specialized services offered at school. She also ensured that his Mass Health insurance was reinstated in order to allow Tomas to receive neuropsychological and trauma evaluations. The court had ordered that Tomas receive regular therapy, but the therapist didn’t seem to be addressing trauma issues, so Martha started working with his pediatrician to get him assigned to a more appropriate therapist.
“If we don’t get children the support they need,” says Charles Lerner, Boston CASA Executive Director, “they hold many intense feelings that naturally come up later. These life-altering experiences don’t just go away. They don’t bounce off of you. They have to be dealt with.”