After hearing her friend’s experience as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Volunteer, Trisha Garrett decided to become a CASA with Child Advocates of Silicon Valley. Her advocacy journey began in the spring of 2019.
Shortly into Trisha’s first assignment, Dorothy, her assigned CASA Specialist, saw the passion that Trisha brought to her advocacy and asked her if she was willing to take on a second assignment, Joseph, a foster teen with nonverbal cognitive challenges. Trisha, unreluctantly, said yes.
“Once I say yes and I’m committed, I’m committed,” said Trisha, “I take it very seriously when I’m supposed to be an Advocate for a child, especially a child that has special needs.”
Unlike her first assignment, Joseph required more support; his Child and Family Team (CFT) also included San Andreas Regional Center (SARC) professionals. Knowing this case would challenge her, Trisha adjusted her approach as a CASA. She connected with Joseph’s psychologist and his team of caregivers to figure out how to best connect and support Joseph.
Trisha began her advocacy by SHOWING UP. From her previous CASA experience, she knew that establishing herself as a constant figure would aid her efforts to build a rapport with the youth. Because Joseph was nonverbal, she had to learn how to best communicate and interact with him and found that he responded well to physical touch and enjoyed going on walks.
“You don’t get the immediate feedback with a child with severe special needs. I had to be open to what was happening in the moment. I might visit him wanting to read a book and do something that I think would be a cool thing to do but it might not work,” recalled Trisha, “Each time I had to be open to where he was at for the day and what would work for him and our time together.”
As she built a rapport with Joseph, Trisha made it a point to STAND UP for him in Court. Based on her personal experience working with medical professionals and caregivers, Trisha firmly believed that having a figure present can affect how someone receives care. During Court hearings, if anyone had questions about Joseph, she wanted to be there to speak on his behalf and share relevant information.
“It makes a difference when someone shows up for you. I did my best to show up for every court appearance or a call because it makes a difference,” Trisha stated.
Over 18 months into her assignment, Joseph turned 18-years old and had a Court hearing to determine if he would remain in the Dependency Court System. Trisha advocated for him to remain in the system as a non-minor dependent (NMD) to extend certain services, including keeping her as his assigned CASA. Unfortunately, the criteria for NMD status stipulates that the youth must currently be employed or enrolled in school/vocational training. Joseph did not meet this criteria so the Court was unable to grant Joseph NMD status. Although the Court’s ruling didn’t allow for Trisha to remain as Joseph’s CASA, she decided she would continue to be present in Joseph’s life.
“As part of his team, Trisha’s advocacy has impacted the life and future of a child in foster care in significant and life enhancing ways,” said Dorothy. “Her consistent support, concern and efforts to help ensure her youth’s needs were acknowledged and met, even in the face of challenges, are the qualities that make her a truly dedicated and amazing Advocate.”
Disclaimer: The story is featured in our 2021 winter issue of LIFT UP The Child Advocates of Silicon Valley Magazine and is based on Trisha Garrett’s experience as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Volunteer. Some details about the foster youth she served have been altered in an effort to keep the youth’s identity anonymous.