This story begins as two infants were adopted from a Russian orphanage and brought to the United States. Just as their lives should have blossomed with love and opportunity, the children’s fate grew very dark. The things that Kristofer and his younger sister Olivia endured at the hands of their adoptive parents are alarming and tragic. The children suffered abuse and neglect; they endured long periods locked in a room without food or water; both kids were severely malnourished and both bore bruises and scars from physical violence.
When the children came into the child welfare system and were placed in a foster home with Ken and Lisa Hanselman, Kristofer weighed 32 pounds at age 6, and Olivia, age 5, was 27 pounds. Olivia was so scared she visibly trembled.
Over time, and as the children began to feel safe, they divulged details about their lives with their adoptive parents. Oliva described the “nasty room” where she and her brother were locked for long periods of time, and a plastic sheet on the floor where they urinated. Other than the plastic sheet the room was completely empty. The window was left open in freezing weather and the kids were fed onions through a crack in the door.
As the details of the children’s ordeal came to light, Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer Judy Thompson was assigned to advocate for the children while they were in placement with the Hanselman family and throughout the court process.
Judy was a consistent presence for the children throughout the duration of the case. She researched every detail of the kids’ history, gathered information from the original adoption agency, she interviewed the children’s parents, observed visits between the parents and the children, and reported findings back to the court. It was Judy that intervened and recommended to the court to stop parental visits, and the court agreed. It was Judy that intervened when the parents wanted to take the children to Ireland to live with family members they had never met.
Judy also worked closely with the foster family, making sure the kids were in good care and that they were getting the therapy and services they needed to heal. Kristofer and Oliva were doing so well with the Hanselman family that Judy supported their wish to adopt the children. She let the judge know that she strongly opposed the children ever being returned to their abusive parents. After two years in court, and with Judy’s support, the children were adopted by the Hanselmans and they are now enjoying the safe embrace of a permanent, loving family.
Judy is one of nearly 250 Court Appointed Special Advocate volunteers in El Paso and Teller counties who work diligently to ensure the safety and well-being of children. CASA volunteers represent the best interests of victims of child abuse, neglect, and severe domestic conflict. CASA volunteers are appointed by judges to be a voice for these children in court and in the community. The desired result is that children be placed in safe, loving homes where they can thrive. For many abused children their CASA volunteer is the only reliable adult presence in their lives.