This month we shine our spotlight on Advocate Marie Takeshita!
Marie has been a CASA since 2018 and has been with the same youth since the start of her CASA journey. Marie is a dedicated advocate and mentor to her youth, Layla* and knows the importance of being a consistent person in a youth’s life. Marie decided to volunteer at CASA during a time in her life where she wanted to give back in a way that was more hands on than her previous volunteer roles. When she read about CASA in the L.A.Times it caught her eye and was curious to learn more about this unique volunteer opportunity. Once she was sworn-in as a CASA, she was eager to meet her case supervisor and start on a case.
Layla was taken into foster care due to failure to protect. She has been in the foster care system since 2016. In 2019, Layla, who was 14 years old at the time, met her CASA, Marie. She wanted a CASA for awhile and was thrilled to have finally been matched with one.
Layla is Marie’s first and current CASA youth match. Marie knew Layla was nervous when they were first introduced as she was shy and her palms were sweaty. Marie tried her best to make her feel comfortable with her since she was essentially a stranger at the time. Marie met her where she was at and was able to build rapport with Layla by asking her questions about herself and getting to know her interests. One of the best games they played to get know each other more is “Ungame”. Ungame helped to break the ice and get them talking about certain topics that lead to other topics and discussions. Layla loved playing this game with her CASA and it seemed to help her open up to Marie. Marie highly recommends this game to otherCASAs who are just starting on a case or who need a tool to start conversations with their youth.
Layla loves to listen to music, to cook, and to sing and dance. Before the pandemic, Marie often took Layla to the CASA kitchen so that they could cook meals together. Layla loved to make lemon bread for her foster mom and was interested in learning how to make different Mexican dishes.Marie describes Layla as a sweet and smart girl who worships her mother. Layla is desperate for love and attention from her mother who, unfortunately, does not give it to her in return. Her mother does not treat her well and it is painful for Marie to see this knowing she cannot protect her from the pain.Layla indicated to Marie that she might want to live with her mother once she turns 18. Though Marie does not want this for Layla, Marie has no control over her decisions. Whatever she chooses to do, Marie will continue to show up for Layla as she has done for her over the past two and half years.
For Marie, one of the most frustrating parts about being a CASA is learning how to work within the system. Learning about the cracks in the foster care system have been eye-opening for Marie and even more challenging knowing that there is only so much she can do as an advocate. Layla’s placement disruption and frequent school changes are the two most apparent disruptions Marie has seen since becoming a CASA. When Marie first met Layla, she seemed innocent, naïve, and young. Since her time in foster care she has been to multiple group homes where she learned how to work the system. She has been in and out of ten placements since 2016. Layla has been at her current placement for about one year now which is the longest she’s ever stayed at one placement since coming into foster care. Prior to living in group homes, she never missed school and turned in her assignments on time. Last year, Layla chose not to go to school most days and her group home did not force her to go.Because of that, Layla missed a majority of the school year and is now working on catching up in assignments to get back on track with her grades. Layla’s frequent placement disruptions have also resulted in several school changes.Layla is currently at her third high school and she is only a sophomore. When she moves schools, she has to start all over again- new environment, new classmates, new teachers, etc. It is a huge adjustment for any teenager, but it is especially challenging for someone like Layla who is in foster care and has no support system to lean on.
Marie has been a strong advocate for Layla in the school setting. She attends her IEP meetings and, since the start of the pandemic, she often sets up virtual meetings with Layla’s teachers to discuss her progress in school. Marie tries as a CASA to encourage Layla’s team to find a support system for Layla at the school. She believes the team needs to do a better job helping her assimilate to a new school and environment as it is the worst time in someone’s life to be isolated. Layla seems to like school now. She was failing all her classes last November, but she is now passing most of her classes. Marie believes that being in-person for her schooling really makes a difference as she never paid attention to her virtual classes last year. Marie knows Layla can succeed if she puts her mind to it, so she continues to encourage her to attend classes and try her best.
Marie’s greatest success on her case so far is creating a strong bond with her CASA youth and knowing that Layla wants her to continue to be in her life. Layla will call her CASA randomly just to talk and will even ask Marie at times if she can adopt her. Marie shared that Layla really has no one else besides her CASA and the team on her caseload- her family blames her for breaking up the family, her mom comes and goes, and her dad has been in jail for over 10 years.
Since the pandemic started, it has been difficult for Marie to communicate with Layla as she does not enjoy video calls. Before the pandemic, they had a weekend routine which included breakfast together at their favorite bagel place. Now, Marie tries to make that happen by delivering bagels to her at her group home on Sundays when she is able to.
Marie believes that the most important piece of advice for other CASAs is to stay committed to your youth and go into this role knowing that as a CASA, you can only do so much in your role as an advocate. Marie feels that being a CASA is all-inclusive: it is eye-opening, rewarding, frustrating, emotionally draining at times, and gratifying. Marie enjoys knowing that she is making a difference in one child’s life, but at the same time, she is also frustrated feeling like she cannot make enough of a difference. Marie says that ultimately the most important part about being a CASA is to be a consistent adult in your youth’s life- to show up when you say you will and to show them that they matter to you. Marie expressed that “if you do not commit to your youth then you are just another person in their life who has come and gone. Having a support system is key and these kids do not have that 99% of the time”. Marie truly enjoys being a CASA to Layla and being her CASA changed her life for the better.
*Name changed to protect confidentiality.
Marie’s supervisor, Donna Doocy, shares: “Marie is an amazing advocate. She has been with her youth for two years now. Her youth has been through a few placements during this time and Marie has tirelessly advocated for her placements and education. This was not always an easy task as there were many obstacles and frustrations along the way, but Marie hung in there and fought for her youth who really has no one else. Marie has a great sense of humor and I can tell her youth appreciates this as well. Marie gets her documentation in on time and her court reports are well written and thoughtful. Overall, Marie embodies the role of a CASA with grace and style. It is truly a pleasure to work with her!”