Learning to LIFT UP Your Voice

Adults often say, “You’re too young to understand.” Although this is true in most cases, at Child Advocates of Silicon Valley, we know that trauma affects youth and children regardless of their understanding.

Lily, a 12-year old foster youth, was placed into protective custody after reporting problems at home to a trusting adult. Although she reached out for support, Lily never expected that her confiding in someone would result in her entering foster care. She couldn’t understand why she was being removed from her home for having done the right thing.

“The first time I met Lily I could feel the reservation,” said Debbie Locke, Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Volunteer. “Even though it was for her own safety, she genuinely believed adults caused her removal from her family. That’s devastating for a child to go through.”

As a middle school teacher, Debbie has firsthand experience working with youth, including students in foster care. She understands the vulnerability all foster children face due to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and the negative impact those ACEs can have on their future outcomes.

After being sworn-in during the pandemic, Debbie knew it was critical to start her relationship with Lily by building trust. Debbie did this by continually SHOWING UP, planning visits and creative, enriching activities for them to do together. Debbie and Lily began to take ‘virtual field trips’ visiting Disneyland, Paris and other locations around the world. All of the activities were strategically planned by Debbie to engage Lily and to help her develop agency, the ability to voice your wants and needs.

“I let her talk. It’s important to listen to what a child is telling you and not insert your words,” said Debbie. “Although specific opportunities may be a positive benefit for Lily, I had to allow her to make that decision and let her voice be heard.”

Slowly, the youth started to open up to her CASA. It started with small conversations about things the youth saw. As they built a rapport, Lily began to open up about experiences and personal struggles. In one instance, with her CASA’s guidance, Lily was able to communicate academic concerns to her teacher; something Lily couldn’t confidently do when she first entered foster care.

Additionally, Lily would discuss her feelings about returning home. As her voice in Court, Debbie made it a point to STAND UP for Lily during hearings. She advocated for Lily’s interest to return to her mother’s custody and ensured the Court that she would support Lily and her mother towards a successful reunification, which they have now accomplished.

“It turned out well. Their home, living conditions and their ability to communicate as a family is so much better now than it was before. Lily is very happy to be home.”

After navigating the challenges of foster care during a global pandemic, Debbie continued to SHOW UP for Lily by planning a nursery trip. While painting succulent pots, the pair spoke openly about Lily’s accomplishments during this difficult period. With Debbie’s nurturing support, Lily was able to take a traumatic situation she didn’t quite understand, learn from it and develop the ability to speak up for her own well-being.

“As a CASA, not only are you helping this one child, you’re helping yourself. You start to see yourself in a way you never experienced before,” said Debbie. “You’re able to help someone become so much more than they could ever imagine themselves to be, and that’s fulfilling.”

Disclaimer: The story is featured in our 2021 fall issue of LIFT UP The Child Advocates of Silicon Valley Magazine and is based on Debbie Locke’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.