For 10 years, Ethan had lived in foster homes, group homes, boys’ homes and shelters in southern Oregon. Abandoned by his mother at age four, he had never known the feeling of being wanted and part of a family. Not surprisingly, he had grown into an angry, defiant teen. Each time he was placed in a new home, it wasn’t long before his behavior made the arrangement impossible to sustain. It looked likely that Ethan would never find a forever home.
There aren’t enough CASAs in Josephine County to meet all the foster children’s needs. Ethan was not assigned a CASA until he was 14. As luck would have it, he received two – the dynamic co-CASA team of Terrie Sandlin and Sherrie Bernheisel. Ethan’s CASAs became his advocates in an overburdened system where kids easily slip through the cracks. Terrie and Sherrie began to work doggedly to find a permanent, loving home for Ethan. They became the one consistent thing in his life.
Life got worse for Ethan before it got better. He was moved to a lock-down shelter in Roseburg. By now Terrie and Sherrie were the only people he would talk to. He was bitter and sullen, answering questions with one-word answers. He hid behind shoulder-length hair that swept across his face like a curtain. He refused his requisite counseling and psychiatric evaluations. “We were losing this kid,” recalls Terrie. “He was going to age out of the system in a shelter, and we were running out of options.”
“When I say that CASA saves lives, I mean that literally. Ethan would have been living on the streets, or growing up to repeat the cycle of violence and abuse. Instead he is a kid who has hope.”
– Terrie Sandlin, CASA
Hope finally arrived when family finding advocates – funded by CASA – located an out-of-state aunt. This woman had believed that Ethan had been adopted ten years before. When she learned that Ethan still lived in foster care, her heart opened to him. After some coaxing, Ethan visited and began to smile and laugh. He met his cousins, and more aunts and uncles. He was wanted and loved and invited to join their family.
It took several months for the aunt and her husband to go through the necessary training and background checks; but in due time, they became Ethan’s guardians. Ethan had found his forever home. It was an emotional moment when the judge issued the decision at the guardianship hearing; Ethan’s attorney literally broke down and sobbed. In fact, there was hardly a dry eye in the courtroom. “Nobody could believe this child would have an outcome like this,” says Sanne Specht, CASA’s Program Manager.
In their role as Ethan’s CASAs, Terri and Sherrie will remain in touch with Ethan until he turns 18. But the relationship is likely to continue beyond then. Because where there is a CASA, there is hope for the child.