Positive Experiences for Everyone Involved

“We attended the Child Advocates’ Holiday Party in 2022 and 2023. Seeing the [developmental] growth in the boys from the first year to the second year was huge.”

Katie Gioioso has advocated for five-year-old Fernando for over a year and a half. But she hasn’t been alone in her advocacy journey. Hillary Goddard, another Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Volunteer, has been by her side, every step of the way, as Hillary advocates for Fernando’s four-year-old brother, Franky.

Today, Hillary and Katie marvel at how much the boys have grown developmentally. A year ago, they could hardly sit still and focus. Now, they’re actively participating in the arts and crafts stations at Child Advocates’ hosted events. This development is a testament to the nurturing support and resources Katie and Hillary provided.

How it All Began

Katie and Hillary come from very different walks of life. Katie is a software engineer, and Hillary was an elementary school teacher in Canada. But in the spring of 2022, the CASA Volunteers’ paths were destined to cross.

Siblings Fernando and Franky, both diagnosed with developmental delays and hyperactivity disorders, were waiting for a CASA for almost a year. That wait was about to end.

Independently, Katie decided to work with Fernando, and Hillary decided to work with Franky. The brothers’ caregiver requested that the CASAs’ first meeting with the boys happen at the same time. Katie and Hillary were introduced to one another by their CASA Supervisor, Bryant, and thus began their shared advocacy journey.

The Formula Works

In theory, our formula to help children heal from the trauma they’ve endured is simple. Pair a child with a caring adult, a CASA, and support the CASA in creating positive childhood experiences for their youth. In practice, this formula can be complicated. However, it is very impactful when done correctly, as evidenced by Katie and Hillary’s work with Fernando and Franky.

In the beginning, the CASAs would visit the boys at their placement, establishing the foundation for their nurturing relationships. Over time, visits were greeted with big hugs from the boys and home visits soon turned into outings at local parks.

Park visits were fun, but Katie and Hillary knew the boys needed more enrichment. They proactively sought out local activities, like Safari Run and snake petting at the local library. And when Child Advocates began hosting more events for kids, they jumped at the opportunity to take the boys.

Fernando and Franky have attended: Sensory Day at the Farm, Pumpkin Patch and the Annual
Holiday Party (twice). Through Child Advocates, they’ve also received bikes, tickets to Disney on
Ice, ice skating passes, gift cards for clothing, access to Happy Hollow Park & Zoo and much more.

In addition to taking every step necessary to ensure the brothers are regularly exposed to positive childhood experiences, Katie and Hillary have assured the Court is apprised of the progress that Franky and Fernando are making.

The Unexpected, Calls for SHOWING UP

When Katie and Hillary began advocating for Fernando and Franky, their social worker worked on an adoption plan for the boys. Over time, this changed. The boys’ birth mother was making significant progress, and the social worker began recommending reunification. At first, Katie and Hillary were apprehensive about this decision. The boys were making so much progress and they feared this drastic change might set them back.

The more they got to know their mom, the more their fears were dispelled. They found her to be very engaged, willing to learn and do whatever it takes to be a great mom. And of course, Hillary and Katie were willing to help her succeed.

From the moment Fernando and Franky were scheduled to move back in with their mom, Katie and Hillary were eager to help with the transition. They reached out to Child Advocates and secured a $500 grant from their Nana Fund (established by a generous benefactor) to help mom purchase bedroom furnishings for the boys. They also helped mom with school enrollment, researching after school programs, and scheduling immunizations. Whatever the mom needed assistance with, Katie and Hillary obliged.

According to Hillary, “[Birth mom] needs to be set up for success. In about five months, [services] will fade away, and she will need to be independent.” Hillary and Katie are committed to ensuring the mom succeeds for Fernando and Franky’s sake.

The End is Near … Sort of

On track for successful reunification, Fernando and Franky will soon lose their dependency status. But that hasn’t deterred Katie and Hillary from continuing their advocacy. Katie recently successfully secured more speech therapy and one-on-one teaching for Fernando through his individualized education program. She also obtained mental health services from Fernando’s school to further enhance his development.

Although the end of their dependency case is near, Katie shares, “I’ve thought about it a lot. Mom
has grown so much. Maybe she doesn’t need [our] support. Other times it’s evident that she
does. I would definitely consider continuing the relationship [after the case closes].” Hillary shares
the same sentiment, “I’m willing to help in whatever capacity mom needs.”

Until that day comes, Katie and Hillary will continue to help birth mom and take advantage of all the
resources and events Child Advocates has to offer. And although it hasn’t been planned yet, Fernando recently invited Katie to his next birthday party. That’s one more positive childhood experience already in the works, with many more to come.

Disclaimer: The story is based on Katie Gioioso and Hillary Goddard’s experiences as CASA
Volunteers. Some details about the foster children they serve have been altered in an effort to
keep their identities anonymous. The full article, including Katie and Hillary’s own words, is available in our 2024 Spring Issue of the Child Advocates of Silicon Valley’s LIFT UP Magazine