To most outsiders, it would appear that the state had done all it needed to do to protect the well-being of little Olivia. The child of heroin addicts had suffered physical abuse and neglect until age three, when she was placed in foster care with her loving paternal grandparents. Her custody agreement allowed for Olivia to spend four nights a week with her father who lived in a residential program for male narcotics users.
Around this time, CASA Steve Nichols, a retired general contractor, was assigned to Olivia’s case. As her CASA, Steve had access to all records that concerned her, including law enforcement, school and medical records. There was not a single document or videotape that he did not thoroughly review and consider in light of Olivia’s best interests. He became the child’s personal detective, learning every piece of her story so that he could stand up for her.
Before long, Olivia’s resource parent raised concerns that Olivia was suffering further physical abuse during her visits to her father, and a forensics interview ensued. Although the examiner did not find any conclusive evidence of abuse, Steve carefully studied the videotape and noted Olivia’s body language whenever her father was mentioned. Some of Olivia’s statements also heightened his concern.
“As a CASA, I am an officer of the court. I am there to support this child, to be her voice. Judges want to hear from me. People can be afraid to speak up in court, and it took me two years to feel confident. Now I am not intimidated. I will stand my ground. I have the passion, heart and courage to stand up for this child.”
– Steve Nichols, CASA
Steve requested a meeting of Olivia’s foster parents and all the professionals involved in her case to report his concerns. Another custody hearing was scheduled. As Olivia’s CASA, Steve spoke passionately to the court on Olivia’s behalf, advocating for the guardianship of her paternal grandparents and for the discontinuation of contact with the father, except for rare, supervised visits. The judge agreed.
Four-year-old Olivia now lives full-time with her grandparents, where she is “loved to the max,” says Steve. They hope to adopt her. Steve will continue being Olivia’s CASA for another year, to ensure she is doing well.