There is more than one way to help a child in foster care. Join co-hosts Lynette Ezell and Tera Melber as they talk with Claire Brannan about her unique work in foster care. From temporary foster placements of infants to donating diapers and making meals for moms in crisis, the Brannan family has done it all. Hear Claire’s story, and be inspired to take your next step on this awesome journey, today.
To get involved in foster care and adoption, visit sendrelief.org/foster-care-adoption.
Announcer: Welcome to the Adopting & Fostering Home podcast. Whether your family has been on this journey for years or you’re just getting started, we’re here to support and encourage you along the way. Now, your hosts, Lynette Ezell and Tera Melber.
Lynette Ezell: Welcome back to the Adopting & Fostering Home podcast. Tera and I have a sweet friend we want to introduce to you today. We actually met her, we started doing ministry at a local church and just realized really quickly that she had the same passion and desire to help homeless children, children from hard places, as we did. Welcome, Claire. We’re so glad you could join us today.
Claire Brannan: Thanks for having me.
Tera Melber: Claire, I remember the first time I met you actually. You had a little bitty teeny baby swaddled on your body, and you were doing, not foster care in the sense of long term foster care, but you were doing interim care for a local agency. You and your family have done a lot of different things with foster care, so why don’t you just tell us a little bit about some of the ways that your family’s been involved.
Claire Brannan: I remember that day, too, surprisingly with little sleep. I do remember meeting you. We’ve been involved in a few different ways, actually. We started out with Bethany Christian Services doing Safe Families with them, which was kind of an alternative to foster care. It was more of moms in crisis, and we would just kind of have the kids on more of a short-term finite basis. Through that, we got involved in the interim care, and that was the in between when an adoption was going to take place before the rights were fully terminated. We would just keep the baby until mom’s rights were terminated and baby would go to forever home.
Tera Melber: That sounds like a really sweet deal for people who really love infants and babies to get involved in something like that in interim care.
Claire Brannan: It is! it is great. I think, for us at least, your natural first concern is about your own children. We have two kids of our own who, when we started this, were little. Mine were 5 and 3 when we started. You don’t know how it’s going to affect them. You don’t know how it’s going to affect your family dynamic, and they loved it from the beginning. I mean, I think if you just introduce it early, it just makes it so much easier for the kids to be aware of what’s going on and to want to be involved and just to have that servant heart.
Lynette Ezell: Absolutely. The risk is great. We do risk our children getting attached to the babies but, when it becomes a lifestyle like the three of us have been called to do, we realize there’s just such joy in obeying the Lord in that even though the risk is great, but the need is just huge!
Claire Brannan: Oh, absolutely. The funny thing now … It’s not funny, but if we get a call now and we’re out of town … My husband travels a good bit. If he’s going to be out of town and I just know I’m not going to be able to juggle everything and we have to say no or say, “Call me back next time,” I mean my boys are just so upset.
Tera Melber: Oh, I love that!
Claire Brannan: It’s like, “Mom, who’s going to help? Who’s going to do this?” It’s great to see that the Lord is growing them in that way, as well. It’s exciting for us as parents.
Tera Melber: Yeah, it does. It teaches empathy and increases that emotion in our kids and gives them a really great view of the world and how to serve others. Claire, I just want to know, how did you and Robbie decide that you wanted to get involved in this space?
Claire Brannan: Well, you know, we had talked about it for years, like very early on in our marriage, just about the need and not really knowing where our fit was, what would work for us. Probably six or seven years ago, we were actually living in a different city, and there was a woman at our church, very similarly to how you and I met, Tera. She walked into a kitchen one evening and had this most precious baby I had ever seen. I was like, “What is happening here? This is amazing!”
Claire Brannan: She kind of shared with me and, about two Sundays later, our church just kind of did a very quick, maybe two-minute spiel on how you could get involved in something like this. I don’t remember it being specific to foster care, but it was just, there’s a huge need and if you want to donate diapers, if you want to make a meal, if you want to come sit so she can take a shower for a few minutes, it was just a little introduction. Robbie and I talked about it and prayed about it and, after we relocated and got settled, we just kind of jumped right in.
Tera Melber: That’s incredible, and it’s awesome to see that there are so many different ways that we can serve. The body of Christ can serve in lots of different ways, everything from what you just said of, “I’m just going to sit with this mama for a bit and let her take a shower and get her laundry done” to donating diapers to doing Safe Families or interim care. Now, you’re even doing something totally different, not totally different, but sort of, so I would really love for people to know what you’re doing right now.
Claire Brannan: In Georgia, Safe Families is no more. That program doesn’t exist, which was a big transition for our family. When that happened, I just kind of had to pray and seek out how I was going to continue to be involved and how our family could stay involved. I knew … I’ve talked with so many people about how broken our system is, and it can get frustrating on all sides, that we don’t understand the legal system. We don’t understand how these kids are staying somewhere that is not a permanent home for years and just continuing to incur all of this trauma.
Claire Brannan: I thought about everything from social work to becoming a paralegal to an attorney, and I just kind of was presented with this opportunity to be a CASA. I thought, “Well, we’ll give this a try and see how it works.” That’s a Court Appointed Special Advocate, so it’s someone who, after some training, would go into court. You’re appointed by a judge, and you go into court and you advocate for a specific foster child or for a sibling set of children.
Tera Melber: Claire, why would a child, why would a foster child need a CASA worker if they have a case manager and a foster family and if they’re going with a private agency, they even have a supervisor there, so what does the CASA worker do that makes it a really unique role for the child?
Claire Brannan: That’s a great question, Tera, and it really depends on the situation, but in many cases, a child is not in one home for the duration of their placement, which means they could have a different social worker. They could have a different foster family. They could have a different caseworker with a private agency. They’re not seeing a steady, familiar face throughout the case, throughout the term of their placement.
Claire Brannan: That CASA, when they’re assigned, we are asked to commit for the term of their placement so, if it’s six months, then we’re with that child for six months. If it’s 18 months, then that’s how long. Unfortunately, some of these children are in placement without a permanent solution for three and four years, and that CASA oftentimes is the only face that stays with them from day one until they are somewhere permanently.
Lynette Ezell: I think that’s one of the most frustrating parts of foster care to me is just the shuffling of the file, which actually means the shuffling of the child. Then, their information slips through the crack. I had a CASA worker call me, I guess about a year ago, and just a gal that had slipped through the cracks that needed a forever family, that she had just been passed over just due to case load.
Claire Brannan: Right.
Lynette Ezell: Her case being shuffled to so many different people, she was just looked over, so I just think that your saying yes to this call, Claire, it’s for the kids, and it really is to give them some stability and someone who follows their case.
Claire Brannan: That’s right, and part of our role is to make sure, regardless of what age they are, do they need any special services? Are they going to the doctor on schedule? Are they getting their vaccinations? Have they ever been to a dentist? How are they doing in school? Is there something going on where maybe we need some special assessments or some special assistance at school that nobody’s ever noticed or no one’s ever followed up on? That CASA worker is really responsible for advocating for that child in every aspect of their life, from school and health to permanent placement.
Lynette Ezell: How do judges and attorneys view CASA workers?
Claire Brannan: I can’t speak for all of them. I do know that, at least the judges and attorneys in the county where I work, they appreciate the CASA workers, and they really rely on us to follow the case and to keep up to speed because, like Lynette just said, to no fault of their own, it’s just the case load is so much for these attorneys and for these DFCS caseworkers. It’s just not possible for them to get out as often as I’m sure they’d like to to visit these kids and to keep up to speed with the day-to-day what’s going on and how are they doing?
Claire Brannan: The judges really appreciate our input. We have to actually submit a report every time we go to court for the judges to read prior to the case being heard, and they read those reports, and I think they appreciate them because we, a lot of times, have the most up-to-date information to present.
Lynette Ezell: Yeah, you absolutely would have the most update information, and it’s just another layer of security, another layer of protection for the child. I’m so glad that, grateful, that you’ve been called into this. I would love to see more people, that’s why we’re doing this podcast, realize that this can be a way to serve.
Lynette Ezell: We hear all the time, adopt and, if you can’t adopt, then foster. If you can’t foster, sponsor. Sponsor a child, help a child, get to know a child. If you can’t sponsor, then volunteer. This is an incredible way that someone that maybe has some time on their hands or feel called to engage a foster child, want to follow them through and just kind of keep that connection, it is an incredible way to do that because a lot of the roles in foster care do not have that privilege of getting to know the child.
Claire Brannan: Right, and you really have to, depending on, obviously, the age of the child that your case is, you want to be able to advocate for them properly, and their best interest may not be … Once they get older, it may not be what they want and it may not be what the foster family necessarily wants. It may not be what the biological family wants. You really have to be kind of independent, hear all the sides, gather all the information, and make a recommendation based on that.
Lynette Ezell: Let’s back up a bit since you’re being so transparent here about being a CASA worker and tell us when you start your day, Claire, when you’re going to court, what does a typical day look like for a CASA worker?
Claire Brannan: You know, Lynette, a typical day in foster case does not exist.
Lynette Ezell: Exactly.
Claire Brannan: I was actually just laughing the other day with someone. I said, “I woke up, and I had this kind of planned out. I was going to go have a meeting with someone in the biological family, and then I needed to follow up with the DFCS. I needed to do …” I had my checklist all organized. Then, you get a call that something pretty dramatic has happened and changed, and you really have to shift your whole day. I mean, obviously, if something’s wrong with the child, you need to address, make sure that that’s being addressed immediately or if there’s a legal situation with someone in the family, you need to make sure that all parties are kind of aware of that, if someone’s not going to be able to appear in court for one reason or another.
Claire Brannan: You just never know, and you have to be flexible, you have to be open, and you just have to be willing to talk and to listen to people. I think, unfortunately, right or wrong, we kind of get these ideas of what people are like before we really know what the situation is, and I just love that this opportunity give me, that this CASA work gives me the opportunity to kind of talk to people and understand how did we get here? Goodness knows, we all make mistakes and mess up, so we just have to make sure that we can keep the child clear of that and really get that child in a best place for him or her going forward.
Tera Melber: I know that your main focus, of course, is the child and consistency with the child and getting the kids what they need as far as school or medical or whatever but, when you said that you also visit with the biological family to obtain information, if you see a mom, do you have the freedom to be able to give her ideas about services, about parenting or things like that or is that in your realm at all?
Claire Brannan: Yeah, absolutely, especially if that case plan is for reunification or if it’s a concurrent case plan. You know, in a lot of cases, especially in Georgia, the plan starts out as reunification, so my role would be to get mom as well as she can get prior to that child coming back to her.
Lynette Ezell: I love that!
Claire Brannan: If she needs maybe some therapy or if she doesn’t know where to go to get maybe some housing ideas or even some food stamp help, if I don’t know the answer to that, I can certainly look to the other coordinators at CASA to give me some ideas because, if I’m supposed to be looking for this child to go back home to mom or dad or mom and dad, then I need to make sure that they have all the available resources to them.
Lynette Ezell: Yeah, and it keeps them from drowning because the goal of foster care’s reunification, so we need these tools brought to the table, and we have to realize at some point we have to work with those bio parents and help, to help build their foundation. If they had a strong support group, they wouldn’t be in this situation.
Claire Brannan: That’s right, Lynette. A lot of times, that’s all they need.
Lynette Ezell: Right.
Claire Brannan: Someone to say, to look them in the eye and say, “I know you can do this. I know you want your child back, and we’re going to figure it out. I know you can do this.” A lot of times, we take five steps forward and then we take 20 steps back, but we’re just going to keep moving forward and, sometimes, they need an advocate just as much as the kids do.
Lynette Ezell: Oh, they do. I love that. Well, Claire, I know that in the state of Georgia, we’ve topped the 15,000 child mark, which is just devastating. I know also that, in 2014, we had just over 7,600. That’s double in just four years’ time. Are there 15,000, greater than 15,000 CASA workers in the state of Georgia?
Claire Brannan: There are not, unfortunately. I think at least the latest numbers I’ve seen, Tera, are that there were over 21,000 kids in care at some point in the year 2018.
Lynette Ezell: Wow!
Claire Brannan: There are 2,700 CASAs in Georgia.
Lynette Ezell: Wow!
Claire Brannan: A lot of those CASAs will have a sibling set, so I guess more kids are getting served, so it may not be a one-to-one ratio. Depending on the county and that CASA worker’s availability, they could have more than one case. Because of the commitment, they ask us to make, a lot of times, they just want you to have one case or maybe two cases or a sibling set of three or four children, which is quite a commitment, but there are nowhere near enough CASAs to advocate for all the children.
Tera Melber: So, what happens to a child or a family who doesn’t have a CASA worker? They just don’t get everything that they need.
Claire Brannan: Right, and then it kind of falls back on, it just depends on the situation. In different counties, there are guardian ad litems who do a great job, and they will advocate for the needs of the child, as well. The foster families obviously then would have to step up and really kind of wave their arms and say, “Look, this child needs X, Y, and Z, and they’re not receiving it, so how do I get it? If they are working through an agency, the agency workers are often very helpful in doing just that, but you really kind of have to make some noise sometimes to get what that child needs. That’s what you have to do. You have to be that squeaky wheel and keep making the noise because those kids need attention.
Lynette Ezell: Claire, how hard is it to become a CASA worker? What’s the process look like?
Claire Brannan: It’s not hard, and there’s trainees all the time. The training that you do before your official, there’s 30 hours in a classroom, which is a commitment, but different counties kind of do it differently. Then, you’re asked to do ten hours of courtroom observation.
Lynette Ezell: That’s good.
Claire Brannan: It’s actually very helpful because you’re talking about all the different parties involved and the attorneys and the judge. I mean, it can get quite confusing on paper but, when you sit there and kind of observe and take it in, it’s much easier to sort out than you might think. Once you are officially a CASA, you’re asked to do 12 hours of inservice every year, and those inservice hours are pretty easily attained through online trainings or going to training somewhere. Even reading some specific books, you can get hours for.
Tera Melber: Well, I tell you, this is such a need, and it’s such a really unique and awesome way to serve in the foster care community in your own state. CASA workers are national, all over the place, so anybody who’s listening could become a CASA worker. You just Google it, and we’ll have the Georgia-specific and I think, Claire, you even had the U.S. CASA website for us to put in the show notes?
Claire Brannan: Yes, absolutely.
Tera Melber: That’s awesome. The Bible tells us in First Corinthians 12:4, there are different kinds of gifts, but the same spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working but, in all of them and in everyone, it’s the same God at work.
Tera Melber: In my mind, this is just another amazing way that the Lord can use gifts. People know what their giftings are and what they know that they’re really good and capable of. You know what kind of time commitment that you have. Your family has just exemplified getting involved in this space of vulnerable children in a way that doesn’t seem as typical as what you might see on a foster care and adoption Sunday morning. We’re not all called to adopt.
Claire Brannan: That’s right.
Tera Melber: We’re not all called to adopt. We’re not all called to foster, but there are so many vast ways that our families can get involved, and you’re teaching your boys empathy, and you’re teaching your boys service to Christ. I’m just grateful to know you, and I’m so thankful that you came today to share with us about how your family serves.
Claire Brannan: Well, I appreciate it, and you guys know that none of this is possible without the Lord. I think that’s the first question people get is, how do you do this or how do you make the time or how can you have kids in your house or how do you juggle.” It’s like, this is what the Lord calls you to do and, if He wants you to do it, He’s going to make the time, He’s going to make the way, He’s going to provide financially, and you just have to trust and follow.
Lynette Ezell: Absolutely, you do. You know, you might be temporary in their lives and they may kind of come and go, Claire, in this calling the Lord’s asked you to, but you’ll never know the impact that you have on a child’s life to just bring them love, understanding, and to keep showing up, and that’s what you do as a CASA worker, so thank you.
Claire Brannan: It’s a blessing. It’s a blessing for me to be able to do it.
Lynette Ezell: Thanks for joining us today. We hope that maybe this spoke to you about another avenue that you can step into and serve in foster care. If you have any questions about that, that’ll be in our show notes there. Claire has added a lot of websites and blogs that you can look at and inform yourself, educate yourself on that. Thanks for joining us today. If this podcast has meant anything to you, would you share it with a friend or just go to iTunes and leave us a review? It would mean so much to us, and it really helps us out, so thanks for joining us today.
Announcer: You have been listening to the Adopting & Fostering Home, a resource of the North American Mission Board.