At first, he wouldn’t talk to her. He might nod or shake his head, but he used no words.
So it was a measure of the relationship they had built when, after several months of weekly visits, twelve-year-old Jack finally started to talk to his Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA), Lynn Temple, in early 2014. And it came just in time.
Having spent the last year in a group home for children in dependency care, Jack was suddenly moved to a foster home, and he wasn’t taking it well. On his first day there, he was threatening to run away.
“I spent about an hour on the phone with him, just trying to calm him down and get him to stay at the home overnight,” Lynn says. “But the foster mother was ready to just let him go. So I also spent a while talking with her, telling her a bit about Jack’s past and what his triggers were.”
Jack had come into the dependency court system when his father, struggling with PTSD, felt unable to care for him and dropped him off at one of the L.A. County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) offices. Jack was severely traumatized by the loss of his family and home and began having anxiety attacks, hitting himself, and talking about suicide.
Lynn shared with the foster mother some of the things she could do to calm him down and build a rapport with him, like playing games, watching movies, and keeping the home quiet. The foster mother tried some of them, and by the next day, when Lynn called Jack to check on him, he was at ease. He was willing to stay.
But there were two other boys in the home, both of whom had special needs, and, over the next several months, the foster mother repeatedly told Lynn she was ready to give Jack back to DCFS.
“I can’t tell you how many times I had to talk her down, reminding her that Jack was a good kid and giving her ideas of how to deal with him,” Lynn says. “But I also had to talk to Jack, calm him down and let him know that if he continued to act out, he would end up back in the group home. I really didn’t know how many more times I could referee the situation.”
So when Jack took a trip to San Francisco last summer to visit an aunt, it wasn’t clear what he would be returning to. But while he was there, he was reconnected with his extended family, and only then did his maternal grandfather, Morris, discover that Jack was in foster care. Likewise, only then did Lynn learn that Morris existed at all.
“Jack’s father was concealing a lot of information from me and the social worker,” Lynn explains. “He had changed his number three times and hadn’t returned any of our calls in over a year.”
Morris wasn’t just surprised to see Jack; he was thrilled. The two learned that they had many of the same interests—like reading, playing cards, swimming, and going to car shows—and they loved spending time together. Right after Jack returned to L.A., Morris called the social worker to tell her he wanted Jack to come live with him and asked her to begin the process of giving him custody.
Meanwhile, Lynn noticed a change coming over Jack.
“Following that visit with his relatives, he became much more confident and talkative,” she remembers. “It seemed like it made him feel there were people out there who loved him and wanted him.”
And as Jack spent more time with Morris in San Francisco, she noted that he was no longer having suicidal thoughts or angry outbursts. He was healing.
With these observations and Jack’s own wishes in mind, Lynn recommended to the court that he be placed with Morris. It was an outcome she couldn’t have realistically hoped for just a few months earlier.
In the course of performing a background check, however, the social worker came across a child abuse charge against Morris. It was from the 1980s, when Morris’ own son, Ben, had come to live with him after being kicked out of his mother’s home, in Portland. Ben had been failing several classes, and one day they got into a heated argument about it at home. A neighbor overheard the yelling and called the police, who, after interviewing Ben, arrested Morris.
When Lynn discussed this with Morris, she learned that there had indeed been an argument, but the real problem was what Ben told the police about it. Ben had wanted to be free to return to Portland to be with his friends and made up a litany of false allegations against Morris, although he had long since recanted.
But this information was unknown to the court, and, seeking to get Jack into a more permanent home, the social worker was pushing to place him with another family member—one who repeatedly refused, though, to return the required paperwork.
Lynn got in touch with Ben and explained the situation, and he wrote a letter to the court describing what really happened—and didn’t happen—in his altercation with Morris decades before. She also organized other family members who could serve as character witnesses for Morris.
At a court hearing two weeks ago, the judge reviewed the testimony along with Lynn’s recommendations and made a decision: Effective immediately, Jack would live with Morris full time. All the parties will reconvene in six months to see how Jack is doing, and Morris hopes to get permanent custody of him then.
When Lynn called Jack a few days after the hearing, he was just back from a shopping trip.
“He told me he was having a great time, that he got a bike and furniture for his room,” she says. “He got to pick out his pillows, his blanket, his desk. That was really important to him—his room, his furniture. It’s permanence, and it’s something every CASA wants a child to have in the end.”
Some details were changed to protect the child’s privacy.