Andrea was 6 when she was removed from her home and placed with my family as a foster child. She was as close to a wild child as I've ever seen. She hissed like a cat. She lied. She stole things and broke things and kicked holes in the walls during epic tantrums. She wandered away from the yard and around the neighborhood at will. She turned our world upside down every day.
What I was witnessing-what Andrea was living with-were the devastating effects of a lifetime of instability. A victim of crushing poverty and parental neglect, Andrea had spent most of the previous year living in a car with her mother. She was only in first grade, but she was already failing in school. Where she came from, drug use and violence were an everyday part of life.
Living with Andrea taught me what happens to kids who are abused or neglected. The consequences are severe and long lasting. And hundreds of thousands of kids living in the foster care system are suffering from them every day.
But there is an antidote, something that can heal the wounds of abuse and neglect: finding a safe, permanent home. I call it the "Power of Permanency," and it's the very thing that CASA volunteers are committed to achieving for every foster child.
When I asked her what she wanted, Andrea said she wanted to go home. It's the same thing every foster kid wants, no matter the bruises and burns and broken bones. All kids crave the safety and stability that home should be-it's what they desperately need in order to love and relax and just be children.
CASA volunteers know that permanency means more than staying in one place for a long time-it means being part of a family rather than part of a system. Sometimes CASA volunteers help reunite children with their biological parents; when that's not safe, they recommend finding a different permanent solution.
Going home wasn't an option for Andrea. But becoming a permanent part of my family was. Last year, after she had been with us for three years, our family adopted Andrea-and we have seen her transformed by the Power of Permanency.
Small, important things began to change. She started handing in homework. She took baby steps toward making friends. We started laughing together. She's become an excellent reader and is hooked on the "Twilight" series. Her crippling anxiety has started to recede.
Andrea is not out of the woods yet. Like other kids who spend time in foster care, she is still at risk for teen pregnancy, failed relationships, homelessness and unemployment. But because of the Power of Permanency, she has an equal chance of achieving her dreams. That's something every child deserves.
Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate the many blessings in our lives, like love and friends and family. It is a time to reflect, to blend new memories with old and to feel an abundance of gratitude for all we have been given.
It is in this spirit that CASA of Chautauqua County, Inc. wishes to extend our heartfelt thanks to the United Way of Southern Chautauqua County, Unified Court System, Chautauqua Suites, Community Bank, Northern Chautauqua Community Foundation, East Hill Foundation, Pizza Hut, Lenna Foundation, Carnahan Jackson, Chautauqua Region Community Foundation, Holmberg Foundation, Cummins, Rotary, Kiwanis, The Post-Journal, The Observer, Quilts for Kids as well as the many, many caring local individuals and businesses for their generous support.
Most of all, we want to express our utmost gratitude for our community of dedicated volunteers who every day make it possible for us to achieve our mission of securing a safe, loving and permanent home for every child who needs one.
Together, we can help build happy, healthy children, strong families and a stronger community. For further information about the Court Appointed Special Advocates program and how you can help, contact CASA at 753-4123 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.