News and Information from the National Court Appointed Special Advocate Association

Frank McCoy

Volunteer Voice

Frank McCoy
CASA Volunteer
CASA Kane County
Geneva, IL

My wife Cathy has been a CASA volunteer since 2000. I saw how worthwhile she found her advocacy work, and we thought it would be rewarding to do something together. So I started as a volunteer about five years ago. We have separate cases, but we’re able to attend trainings and various meetings together.

In most of the cases we’ve been involved in, the children move from foster home to foster home, from social worker to social worker. And the CASA volunteer is the only constant in their lives. What keeps us going is that we can offer some stability and a positive influence.

Cathy and I have also witnessed the power of advocacy from the other side of the fence. We’ve been foster parents, and we’ve seen how hard CASA volunteers work for what the kids need.

In 2005, I had the privilege of being assigned to the case of a 12-year-old boy named Ryan. Ryan had been in the system since he was 4. He had been placed in various foster homes in Illinois, a relative home in Oklahoma, then back to Illinois after the relative placement failed.

When I met Ryan, he had just been moved into a home with a single foster mom who was caring for two other teenage boys. Ryan was not doing well in the home and not even attempting to succeed in school—he was getting all Fs. When I talked with him, he said he was done trying. He was going to sit there until he was 18 and then start his life again when he was on his own.

My first inclination was to get Ryan into a new environment. And then reality hit me like a two-by-four—where are you going to place an almost-teenage boy with an overwhelmingly negative attitude? Ryan was very fortunate to have a foster mother who loved him and believed in him as well as a caseworker who was willing to make tough decisions. But the foster mom was overwhelmed with the three boys. And while the caseworker was willing to keep moving Ryan, there were no available homes willing to take in a frustrated boy his age.

A positive development was that one of the other foster siblings—the one causing most of the trouble—was relocated to another home. Around the same time, Ryan became more attached to his foster mother’s fiancé, who owned a farm with animals. The boy started working on the farm. He burned up his excess energy baling hay and cleaning the barn. The animals became a source of pride for Ryan as he became really good at caring for them. He started to realize that people did love him and were proud of him, and the tide began to turn. He came out of his shell and started to try in school. Ryan made up two grade levels in one year and made the honor roll.

In the spring of 2008, Ryan was adopted by his foster mother and finally had what he had wanted all along—a family that loved him. When the judge asked Ryan if he wanted to change his name, his sense of humor kicked in and he said, “No, I am used to being called Ryan.”

With the persistent encouragement of representatives of the CASA program, everyone involved in Ryan’s care was able to stay focused on the boy. I worked with his caseworker to get him into special classes at school. But what seemed to help him most were our kitchen table chats. I was able to get Ryan to talk and listened carefully to his concerns. The entire team was then able to communicate and bring Ryan back from a desperate situation. The key was never giving up.

In weak moments, we volunteers may feel we are owed gratitude by the children—that they should be glad to have someone to talk with them and explain things. But that’s forgetting that in their whole lives they may never have had anyone keep a promise. It helps to focus on the long-term results you’re going to influence. Over time, you’ll prove to the young person that you’re not going away until they’re in a permanent home. The highlight of my volunteer career was seeing that happen for Ryan.

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