Nina is 21 years old, but she had to start growing up a long time ago. She recently aged out of foster care, and struggles with the many challenges that are part of life without a support network.
Nina’s story is full of experiences that make us shudder.
By the time she was 21, Nina had lived in 20 different foster placements
One of these families wanted to adopt Nina, but her biological father insisted that she be removed from that placement and sent to live with him. Her stay with her father lasted less than a year; then Nina was back in the system.
Determined to stay at the same school, after she had been sent to a family that lived far away from that school, Nina got up at 4:00 a.m. in order to take three trains and then a bus to get to school by the opening bell. She persevered and stayed in school.
At 17, Nina became a mother. Two years later, her daughter was taken into foster care. As Nina worked to meet the requirements to be reunited with her daughter, she discovered that her daughter had been abused in foster care.
Despite these obstacles, Nina graduated as the Valedictorian of her high school class.
This single fact captures what CASA’s mission is all about: working with abused and neglected children and actively supporting them so they can take their best shot.
Nina’s CASA volunteer, Leslie, was assigned to her in 2006 and is still working with her. “Until Leslie became my CASA volunteer,” says Nina, “I didn’t know what it was like to have someone on my side. I kept expecting her to leave, but she didn’t, even when I made some really bad choices. She told me what was right, even if it wasn’t what I wanted to hear.”
Leslie says, “Nina was dependent on the state for her care for so long that she finds it hard to provide for herself—one crucial ingredient in getting her daughter back.”
Since leaving foster care, finding appropriate housing has been one of Nina’s greatest challenges. She has no support network to help her obtain permanent housing. In one of many Catch-22 situations Nina has faced, the wait list for housing is even longer for Nina because her daughter isn’t in her care—yet she must show that she has stable housing in order to be reunited with her daughter.
Many of the barriers Nina faces are similar to those facing all foster youth who age out of the system. These young adults often feel set adrift with no support. That is one reason why Nina wants to start her own nonprofit agency, where volunteers who were successful foster youth can help the next generation of foster children get the support they need.
Thanks to her own inherent strength and maturity, and her CASA volunteer Leslie’s continued advocacy, Nina keeps taking steps toward a healthy future. She says, “I have learned that just because one person didn’t care enough about me, it doesn’t mean nobody cares. Sometimes it takes one person to change a child’s life forever. For me, it was my CASA volunteer.”