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Advocate Impact:  Sharon Thomas

Sharon Thomas has been a CASA Advocate since 2009. In the past 5 years, she has served a great number of children, mostly teenagers, while they navigate the CPS system. She recently worked a case with a 16-year-old youth who had been removed from her father’s care due to alleged physical and sexual abuse which had occurred since she was 8 years old. Lilly had not seen her mother in years. Her mother made the choice to abandon her husband and daughter for a life that involved drugs.

The mother decided to get involved in the case after receiving notice of the abuse her daughter was enduring. She showed a great deal of anger towards the father, which was displayed in an outburst at the first family group conference. Lilly was placed in the home of her aunt and uncle, where she was welcomed and finally safe. The tension between her parents, along with her new placement, was a stressful transition for her. Sharon immediately started advocating for increased individual therapy to help Lilly cope with the process. 

Due to the sexual abuse allegations, it was decided at the 262 hearing that Lilly would only have visitation with her father if a therapist felt it was appropriate. There were complications on this issue due to the ad litem communicating that the child still wanted to have contact with her father. The ad litem supported the request for visitation, despite it not being in her client’s best interest. Sharon advocated for the therapeutic process to be the deciding factor, and requested that the therapist shed light on what was most appropriate for Lilly’s visitation. After careful deliberation, the judge weighed all factors and decided not to allow visitation. Shortly after this hearing, the father was indicted for sexual abuse of a child. 

Lilly had expressed to Sharon and CPS that she wanted to stay placed with her aunt and uncle. She had a closer relationship to her relatives than she did to her mother, who wasn’t around to protect her from the abuse. This did not sit well with her mother, despite the fact that she had not had not been involved in her daughter’s life for eight years. Lilly was fine with visiting her mother but was determined to remain with her relatives long term.  After hearing Lilly’s desires, Mom started to disengage, which included being inconsistent in her parent-child visits. Meanwhile, the ad litem had decided not to support termination of the father’s rights, because she felt it was not in her client’s best interests. CPS considered allowing Lilly to age out of care, claiming that it would give Lilly more benefits. Sharon disagreed after talking to a Preparation for Adult Living (PAL) specialist during Lilly’s Circle of Support meeting, and she advocated instead for relative adoption. She felt that her role as a CASA volunteer was to advocate what was in the child’s best interest, and she did not want to ignore the fact that Lilly wanted to be adopted by her aunt and uncle. The ad litem firmly disagreed, stating that the child was just confused and did not know how to make the best decisions for her life. 

At the final CPS staffing, Lilly was asked what she would like to see as the final outcome on her case. On the record, she expressed her desire to be adopted by her aunt and uncle. By the time trial came along, the father had relinquished his rights. It was anticipated that Lilly’s mother would do the same, but she did not show up to court due to the anger she held towards her daughter for not wanting to return home with her. Despite her absence, the judge terminated her parental rights. This opened the door for Lilly to be adopted by her relatives and finally giving her the stability she lacked for so long.