When I began my journey to write “Blessed to Be Unwanted,” at that time my mother had no real answers to any of the many questions I had as to why she wanted to write a book about how she was put in the arms of the Doyle’s. However, she was determined to get her story told as she wanted to share with the world of how she was handed over to strangers on a street corner in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania at just five days old. The month of May is Foster Awareness Month as well as recognizing Court Appointed Special Advocates, otherwise known as a CASA. As many of you may know, I became a CASA in October of 2017. I have been working with a beautiful young child, and I know I have made a positive impact on her life, and you, too, can volunteer as a CASA.When I started researching volunteer programs, I wasn’t sure at the time what that meant but knew that I had something more to offer to honor my mother. I came across a non-profit organization, called “Voices for Children,” founded in 1980. Voices for Children provides comprehensive training and professional staff support towards becoming a Court Appointed Special Advocate. People come from all levels of society; they include business executives, teachers, homemakers, attorneys, students, and retirees. Applicants must be at least 21 years of age and have the compassion and energy to help children in need.
CASAs are advocates for children in the court system that are placed in foster care. The CASAs role is to serve as the voice of the child – a voice separates from the child’s family members, foster care providers, and the attorneys and social workers. CASAs genuinely do make a profound impact on a child in need. I was so surprised when I attended my first court hearing to find the judge searching for my court report. The judge really does take the CASAs court report very seriously. What I have learned is that by the children having a CASA, it really does help all parties involved, i.e., social worker, attorney, judge, foster caregiver. According to a 2003 Government Accountability Office report, the average caseload for child welfare/foster care caseworkers is 24–31 children; these high caseloads contribute to high worker turnover and insufficient services being provided to children and families. Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) recommends that foster care caseworkers have caseloads of 12–15 children. Average turnover rates for child welfare agencies range from 20% to 40%. Turnover rates at around 10% are considered to be optimal in any agency. (CWLA)
All the more reason why a CASA is such an integral piece of the pie when assisting in a child who is placed in foster care. We like to recognize the challenging position that social workers are put in. None of them ask for huge caseloads, and the majority are working diligently to provide the basic needs, which is their primary responsibility. Indeed, they are overworked and underpaid, which explains the high turnover. If only there were an easy fix.
A CASA is typically assigned to one child. However, it does vary as you may be assigned more than one child when there are siblings involved. Voice’s for Children does ask for CASAs to make an 18-month commitment, though sometimes life presents itself in unforeseen ways such as job transfers or health issues. I have been working with my child for a little over two years now, and she has brought so much joy to my life! There is no better gift that I can think of than giving a child hope. What I have learned is that so many people come and go in their lives like the many different social workers that they may encounter, however, I have been the one person that has been constant for her throughout this process while she is awaiting her adoption. Every time I see her, she welcomes me with open arms. I will tell you it was not always like that. It took time in the beginning to gain her trust, but she has made me recognize that every child needs an advocate, especially the neglected and fragile children that get lost in the system. I wish I could tell you more about her, but to protect her identity as a CASA, I cannot share any details about her. However, what I can tell you is that Voices for Children is always in need of a powerful voice for an abused or neglected child. So please consider volunteering.
To learn more and if you would like to register for an information session, go to www.speakupnow.org. If anyone is interested, I would be happy to share some more information on how to become a CASA; please feel free to reach out to me via e-mail at [email protected]. Also, I am learning through my Voice’s for Children Advocate’s that each state has similar programs and may be called something a little different. For example, the state of Florida, they are called Guardian ad Litem/for children. I use this example as the Riverside, California branch just hired an individual from Florida. I googled Court Appointed Special Advocate in Florida and the information popped up.
Voice’s for Children is a non-profit organization and to help ensure a brighter future for the children that are lost in our court system; your contribution will help a child’s future. I used to work in biotech pharmaceutical’s, where I called on the most fragile patients in the neonatal intensive care units. I used to educate on these very vulnerable babies where they did not have a voice to ensure that they got the proper care that they needed to survive. This is no different in that these children do not have a voice. We are their voice. Even if all you can give is a dollar, a dollar will help contribute to that child in need. To learn more, go the link below to donate.
As a mother, I cannot imagine what it must have been like for my mom’s biological mother, Iva, to leave her with perfect strangers. It is now clear to me; that it was Mother’s destiny to be raised and loved by the Doyle’s; I shudder to think how much she would have suffered otherwise. Child abandonment often leads to the child having feelings of rejection. I believe my mom’s intention was to offer hope to those who experience this. It was her hope they would seek their life’s passion with eagerness and enthusiasm and make a difference just by living life to the fullest, much as she did. It was her greatest wish to continue her foster mother’s legacy and her love for humanity in the form of a book, dedicated to the children of the world who have been given up for adoption regardless of the circumstances. “Blessed to Be Unwanted” is a real account and testament to every life. It has purpose and meaning and is relevant to the value found in everyone regardless of what country you came from, your race, or social status. It is a reminder for all of us to see how one couple changed the course of a child’s life and led to this legacy of two generations of loving families. Dorothy and Frank’s deep love for one another and Joni runs through my veins and my children’s’ as well; and will thread through the lives of many generations to come.
“Blessed to Be Unwanted” is based on my mother’s true story and her heroine foster mother who took care of herself and twenty-eight children during and after World War II. It speaks to the one hundred, thirty-five thousand children that are adopted in the U.S. each year. Her goal was to inspire each adopted child to live life to the fullest and to raise awareness around this topic. She hoped to reach out to anyone who is thinking about fostering or adopting or those that have experienced abandonment, loss, or grief. This amazing couple, Dorothy, and Frank Doyle, my grandparents, took this precious infant in as their own.
In preparing to write this book, I began to research foster care and adoption in the United States. What I discovered is that two of the most common feelings adopted children experience is rejection and abandonment, followed by grief and loss. It is impossible to predict when these feelings will appear, or the behaviors associated with them; however, the research points out, it does occur at some point in their lives. Adopted children tend to think something is wrong with them because they were “unwanted.” Even though the Doyle’s loved my mother, she too experienced loss and abandonment. Below is an excerpt from the book as my mother described to me one of her fears as she believed it was related to her insecurities of where she came from.
“I remember the stories my mother shared with me explaining her reservations about the “Rag Man.” I suspect fear and skepticism developed in her mind because children would come and go so much. According to my mom, he would stroll down the street once a week with an old gray mare pulling his rickety old wagon. He would call out in a deep, loud voice, “Rags, any rags today?” as he would slowly make his way down the pavement. Whenever Mom heard him, no matter what was happening, she would make a beeline and hide under her parent’s bed; Mom was sure he was the one responsible for the children disappearing one by one. At the time, she did not understand why the other kids would come and go as they did. My mom remained unseen under the bed until “Rag Man’s” voice faded completely out. It was unfortunate; I think she was just afraid of the way he looked and sounded. Mother continued with her story, which I found to be so fascinating that she was one of the twenty-eight children that Frank and Dorothy watched over.”
I feel fortunate in having had two loving, hard-working parents as they taught me that hard work leads to success, and no dream is too big. As has been said before, the things you do for yourself are gone when you are gone, but the things you do for others remain as your legacy. I listened to my mother, and I am proud that I fulfilled her dying wish and finished the book. Life can be pretty amazing when we listen!
I want to thank my mom, for giving me the honor to share her story, for I too, received a blessing for having this beautiful woman as my mother.