Teen to NMD & Everything in Between

“Always Be There.”

Always being up for the challenge, ambitious Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Volunteer Sabrina Martire asked her CASA Supervisor, Jessica Alvarez, for a difficult dependency case with an older foster youth. Jessica suggested a dually involved youth**(DIY), which is a youth involved with both the Juvenile Justice and the Dependency Court System. The teen had a history of delinquency and risky behaviors due to trauma but Sabrina was up for the task. In March 2020, the Court appointed Sabrina as CASA to Mia, a rebellious 17-year-old.

As the world was tossed into chaos with the onset of COVID, Sabrina was determined to help fulfill the essential needs for her newly assigned youth. Not knowing what to expect during her first encounter, Sabrina was excited to meet Mia to deliver a laptop for distance learning. Mia pulled up to her placement after Sabrina’s arrival and told her caregiver to take the laptop with no acknowledgment of her CASA’s presence. Shortly after, the teen violated her probation and was placed into juvenile hall.

Not being discouraged by hearing the news, Sabrina was committed to SHOWING UP for the teen. She connected with CASA Specialist, Dorothy Ross, whose specialty is working with DIY cases. Due to the pandemic, no visitors were allowed at the facility, but Dorothy was able to aid Sabrina in communicating with Mia by setting up virtual Zoom visits. Mia did not attend the first six virtual calls. Eventually, Mia would attend but was disengaged.

Upon discovering the teen’s favorite book, Sabrina started sending snippets of Cat in the Hat to a representative who then would give them to Mia. During their Zoom calls, Sabrina started to read the children’s classic in a filibuster attempt. No longer being able to contain her laughter, it appeared as though Sabrina’s persistence finally worked, as they started to have real conversations from that moment on.

“Not about us, it’s about her.”

Due to the spike in COVID within the juvenile hall, Mia was transferred to the ranch, a juvenile detention facility. Unlike other dependency cases, Mia’s dual status** meant her Child and Family Team** (CFT) was larger than most. She had an estimated 20 providers working collaboratively to support her through both her dependency and juvenile case. Among the CFT, was her CASA.

Being overwhelmed with an extensive team of providers, Mia’s anxiety increased during their weekly meetings. As a CASA, Sabrina used her role to STAND UP for Mia’s best interests. To minimize Mia’s anxiety, Sabrina advocated for everyone to stop sharing video screens during the CFT meetings. This allowed Mia to have control over her environment. The individuals who had their cameras on were the four individuals she felt comfortable to see, one of them being Sabrina.

In December 2020, Mia was eligible for early release on good behavior. Sabrina was asked by the Juvenile Court Judge if she would agree to sign for the teen’s release. Having committed to the challenge, Sabrina agreed. Getting her teen ready for a new placement, she visited the Child Advocates of Silicon Valley CASA Store, a dedicated room filled with new items for foster children and youth. Once in The Store, Sabrina thoughtfully gathered all the essentials, clothes, bedding, school supplies and more.

The day finally arrived.

Leading to this moment, Mia and Sabrina discussed what Mia would want to eat upon being released. Mia’s response: al pastor burrito with no onions and no beans from La Victoria’s Taqueria. Not knowing that her CASA purposefully saved her order on a sticky note during their prior calls, Mia was shocked to see Sabrina waiting for her with the perfect burrito. For years, everyone got Mia’s order wrong, but not her CASA. “I think because of that, it was Mia’s turning point, [she learned] that I’m here for the long haul. I understand her and will advocate for her and what she needs.”

This marked Mia and Sabrina’s first in-person meeting in seven months.

“Don’t give up on them.”

Although Mia was no longer in the ranch, she still had to face different challenges. One of them was to decide whether she wanted to stay in the dependency system as a non-minor-dependent** (NMD) now that she turned 18. However, in order to do so, Mia would have to agree to meet the participation criteria.** With the support of her now reduced CFT, Mia was encouraged to accept extended foster care services. She worked diligently through her independent studies program to try to complete her high school diploma. Mia would also check in regularly with Sabrina for updates.

Unfortunately, foster youth experience multiple traumas and disruptive events that have an impact on their development. Without early interventions and constant support, youth who deal with ongoing trauma, are at greater risk of developing unhealthy habits and risky behaviors that lead to negative adult outcomes. Even though she now has Sabrina by her side, this is something that Mia still grapples with.

Despite her progress, Mia returned to a tumultuous relationship, one in which she was exposed to domestic violence, began disregarding her school work and started disconnecting from Sabrina. This behavior compromises Mia’s ability to meet her participation criteria, which places her NMD status and extended foster care services at risk. This includes losing access to Sabrina as her CASA, something Mia can’t afford to have happen and that Sabrina is determined to prevent.

“She has had a lot of trauma in her life. Her actions are her processing and working through current trauma. I just have to be patient and not give up.”

Currently, Mia’s CFT and Sabrina are working together to help Mia stay on a positive path. Even though Mia is slowly making progress towards meeting the participation criteria, the path is not linear. Nevertheless, when Mia is put in a position where she knows she needs additional help, she reaches out to Sabrina. Regardless of the situation, Sabrina will be there without judgment to help LIFT UP Mia.

**Key Terms

Child & Family Team: A collaborative team of individuals assigned to a child’s case for collaboration, coordination and efficient meeting of the child’s current needs. This includes but is not limited to social worker, CASA Volunteer and lawyer.

Dually Involved Youth: Youth who are involved in both the Juvenile Justice and Juvenile Dependency Courts. 

Dual Status: Youth is simultaneously adjudicated in both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems, meaning the youth is declared a dependent and a ward of the juvenile court.

Non-Minor Dependent: Youth “under an order of foster care” on their 18th birthday is eligible to stay a dependent with financial support and case management until age 21. Participation by the youth is voluntary and they must sign a mutual agreement to meet one of the “participation conditions.” 

Participation Criteria: 1) Complete high or equivalent program; or 2) Be enrolled in college, community college or a vocational education program; or 3) Participate program designed to remove barriers to employment; or 4) Employed at least 80 hours a month; or 5) Unable to do one of the above because of a medical or mental health condition.

Disclaimer: The story is featured in our 2022 spring issue of LIFT UP The Child Advocates of Silicon Valley Magazine based on Sabrina Martire’s experience as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Volunteer. Some details about the non-minor dependent she serves have been altered in an effort to keep the youth’s identity anonymous.