Picture a teenager who has been in foster care for most of her young life. Imagine she can count on one hand the caring adults who are currently involved in her life, and of those people, all but one of them is a paid professional. Disconnections from family and multiple losses lead to feelings of insecurity, sorrow, isolation, and a sense that she is unloved and alone.
Sadly, this is not an uncommon scenario for children and youth in foster care or residential treatment. Foster care is meant to be a temporary haven for children living in unsafe conditions, but about one quarter of the nation’s 500,000 children in foster care stay until adulthood. They grow up separated from immediate and extended family, and in many cases they don’t even know who their family members are.
This is why CASA of the Pikes Peak Region is providing family search and engagement services for foster kids through CASA’s Life Long Links (LLL) program.
The goal is to locate, connect or reconnect and engage family and other important people in the child’s life in order to facilitate supportive relationships and life-long connections. CASA is growing the child’s support network so that he/she has at least three to five individuals who are actively participating in their life through regular contact, support, planning, and potentially permanent placement. It is based on the conviction that all children in foster care should have a network of natural supports who will add value, meaning and a sense of belonging to the child now and into the future.
CASA trains Life Long Links volunteers to specialize in finding family for foster youth. They spend between 12-20 hours per month on activities including: mining of information from case files, public records searches, social media searches; outreach and interviews of relatives and other significant supportive adults through calls and letters; gathering of family stories and photos, social history, medical information, contact lists and family trees; and participation in family and/or team meetings.
Several of the LLL cases involve children who are the victims of failed adoptions. One teenager had been told by her abusive adoptive mother that her biological mother looked like a witch and was a terrible person. What a gift for the this young girl to discover that, not only was her mother beautiful, but she has worked to overcome her challenges, is successfully completing her education and is parenting a healthy sibling that the teen did not know she had.
Another young woman who had been raised by her mentally ill mother until her death by a drug overdose, and who had experienced multiple hospitalizations and a diagnosis of psychosis, was assisted to find and reconnect with her biological father whom she met for the first time at age 17.
Through a LLL search, 17-year-old Sabrina who had been in foster homes and residential treatment was reconnected with her biological mother, paternal grandmother, paternal grandfather, former stepmother and her family, paternal great aunt and her family. See the heartwarming photo book Sabrina received from family.
Consider also the child who received his only photo of his deceased mother from a relative found through the program, and the value for a very young child who will be adopted to have a family tree and life book to help her know where she came from as she grows older.
Even for kids with less dramatic outcomes, lives have been impacted in a variety of ways:
- Increased sibling contact
- Re-connection with biological relatives and extended family
- Placement with a relative found for youth in care
- A sense of identity through construction of family trees and life books
- Support for family members to understand a youth’s needs
- A place to go for the holidays/someone to call for help and support
These are just a few of the incredible impacts the Life Long Links Program has had on the lives of children and youth.
The time commitment for a Life Long Links volunteer is between 12 – 20 hours a month. For additional information on Life Long Links click here or call 447-9898 x1032.