So Why Did CPS Take us Away? by a Brand New CASA Volunteer Advocate
I received a text that the children involved in my first CASA case were at the CPS office waiting for a foster home. They would be there for a couple of hours or so, if I was available, now would be a good time to go and meet them. Without hesitation, I headed out, but on the ten-minute drive over, my nerves started to get the best of me. What exactly should I say? Should I ask them leading questions? Are there topics I should avoid? I must have prayed at least twenty prayers on the drive to the CPS office: God, please help me to say the right thing. God, please help me not to say the wrong thing. God, please just help me not to cry in front of them.
I didn’t know what to expect. Would they be traumatized, crying, upset, or dazed? Would they be having tantrums, angry and scared, or screaming for the same parents whose actions had brought them to the CPS office? Nope, none of that. They looked just like… normal, everyday kids.
The room smelled of the pancakes and sausage they had just enjoyed for breakfast. They were sitting quietly in the playroom of the CPS office, playing with toys and coloring with crayons. They were clean and wearing their new clothes given to them by CPS. Because I had already read the documents that were filed with the court, I knew their names and introduced myself. I told them that I was very glad to meet them and that I loved making new friends. Feeling a little more comfortable, I relaxed a bit and was quite pleased with myself for starting the conversation with ease.
After being in the room with them for all of 90 seconds, the oldest child looked into my eyes and said, “So, why did CPS take us away?” Many options flashed through my mind in possible response to this question. I thought of the history of neglect that I had read about in their case file. I thought of the less than ideal choices the adults in these children’s lives had made. In the span of a second or two, I thought of the most complicated answers first, but then I realized that the little eyes looking into mine were seeking the most simple of answers for all the commotion that they had just experienced.
I said, “Well, we just want to make sure that you are all safe and happy, that you have plenty of food to eat, that you have clean clothes to wear, that you are not left alone, and that you have a nice place to live that is warm and dry. You know, I want the same things for you that I want for all of my friends.” I waited for a response. I braced myself for follow up questions. I anticipated this child’s desire to have me help make sense of the tangled mess that the kids had experienced over the past few weeks.
My new friend listened, paused and said, “Oh, OK,” and went back to coloring. Sometimes as a CASA, the simplest answers are the best. Speaking from the heart can often make more sense to a child than trying to explain the actions of other adults that we do not understand ourselves. And, making new friends with a group of children when they need someone in their corner the most, can be some of the most meaningful friendships ever experienced.