During the summer’s Olympic programming, Simone Biles, superstar gymnast and Catholic public figure, sparked controversy when she shared her thoughts on abortion with her social media followers. Biles voiced her support for abortion as an option for women who do not want to consider the messiness of foster care for their unborn children.
The tweet read, “Also for anyone gonna say ‘just put it up for adoption’ it’s not that easy & coming from someone that was in the foster care system TRUST me foster care system is broken & it’s TOUGH on the kids & young adults who age out & adoption is expensive...im just saying.”
There’s a lot to unpack here - and also a lot of truth in what Biles said about the foster care system.
America’s foster care system is bursting at the seams
Here are some quick facts about America’s foster care system:
- There are approximately 424,000 children in the foster care system in the United States.
- The average child in the foster care system is 8 years old.
- In 2019, one-third of the children in foster care were young people of color.
- 20,000 youths between the ages of 18-21 will age out of foster care each year.
- 120,000 children are waiting to be adopted right now.
Biles is right about one thing: Our foster care system in America is bursting at the seams. There are several parties at play in the system: guardians ad litem, caseworkers, biological families, foster families, foster care specialists, attorneys, judges, doctors, teachers - the list goes on.
There is paperwork and red tape, not to mention an unfathomable caseload. Foster and biological families alike express frustration with turnover within the system. In Douglas County, Nebraska, where I live, caseworkers testify to managing up to 30 cases at a time! There are so many moving pieces, so many kids experiencing neglect and abuse, and such a shortage of foster families. With such an intense workload on the shoulders of employees who are typically underpaid and overworked, it’s to be expected that the organizations providing caseworkers and social services experience consistently high turnover.
CASA: The Court-Appointed Special Advocate
However, there is one other position that I believe is a game changer: the Court-Appointed Special Advocate (CASA).
National CASA recruits, trains, and supports qualified volunteers to advocate for a specific child or sibling group in the foster care system of their local community. These volunteers are objective advocates working exclusively for the best interests of their assigned child. CASA currently operates 950 state organizations with over 93,000 volunteers and over 242,000 children served annually. Their ultimate goal is that every child in foster care will have a Court-Appointed Special Advocate as their representative.
I trained with CASA Omaha to become a volunteer advocate. After specific training in trauma, child development, communication skills, and cultural competence, I was sworn in by a local county judge. Out of all the children ages 0-21 needing the care of a Court-Appointed Special Advocate, I was placed with an elementary school-aged girl.
My responsibilities are clear: I am to communicate with all moving parts in my child’s particular case to ensure she finds permanency - whether reunited with her family or in a committed adoptive home - within 22 months. I am responsible for writing the court report, explaining to the judge the progress made in a given amount of time, providing observations, keeping contact logs with applicable parties, and suggesting court orders for my child and her family.
The blessing in my role is that I can advocate for the healing of the parents and family, not only my assigned child. Ultimately, if a parent is making strides to better themselves, they can positively impact the upbringing and outcomes of the child as well. Court-appointed special advocacy sees the dignity of the child and their parents, and the good that comes when children are raised by their biological families.
That being said, I am also responsible for stating if I believe reunification should no longer be the objective and if adoption will be a better pathway to permanency and stability for the child. I am cognizant of the huge responsibility of the arguments I make; according to CASA Omaha, 86% of court orders suggested by the volunteer CASA are approved.
Luckily for CASA volunteers, the workload is attainable. Volunteers are expected to work with the child on average 20 hours a month, keeping up with contact logs, spending quality time with their child, and writing the quarterly court report. There is also a two-year commitment so that volunteers are the only Advocates their children will have during their time in foster care. With so many moving parts, the CASA acts as a sturdy lighthouse in the storm.
Being a CASA volunteer is a tangible way to be pro-life
Working with CASA is a pro-life answer to the messy foster care system that is aching for more: more families to answer the call to foster care, more money to be invested in the foster care system, more state investment to draw in more caseworkers to handle more children in need… more, more, more.
The pillars of Catholic Social Teaching ask us to support the marginalized and forgotten, to advocate for the sacredness of the family unit, and to work together in solidarity as one human family. Through this, we can be a small, positive change in America’s foster care system.
What we need today are volunteers who believe in the sanctity of life, even in the most disadvantaged child. Advocating for their futures and turning the large ship of the American foster care system can change the perception of the “system” for generations to come. In the meantime, we’re saving and changing lives, one child at a time.