December 15, 2017 | Source: Lubbock Avalanche-Journal
By Gabriel Monte
Jaclyn Morris had known about the five children aged 10-4 whose picture hangs on the wall of her office.
Morris babysat the eldest child when she was a toddler and knew about the rough life the girl and her siblings suffered as they bounced back and forth from foster care to their biological parents because of abuse and neglect.
The abuse included an incident in which two of the children, who were fraternal twins, suffered serious injuries. The boy suffered a broken femur and ribs, while the girl suffered a blow to the head that left her a quadriplegic and blind. She would live for another 16 years because of her injuries, said Morris, the executive director with the Court Appointed Special Advocate with the South Plains, one of this year’s Goodfellows beneficiaries.
It wasn’t until the children’s fifth time through the system were the children assigned a court-appointed special advocate, which is a guardian ad litem appointed by the court to look after the best interest of the child. That job entails visiting the children, the people they are placed with, relatives, teachers, doctors and therapists. They also provide to the child protection court judge a report recommending what they believe is in the child’s best interest.
The children were placed with her, and Morris, who had a 7-year-old daughter at the time, met the officials involved in the children’s case, including their advocate, who went with the children to doctor’s visits and spoke to their therapist.
“(The CASA) I recognized, right away, was gathering more information, was writing more reports, was asking me more questions, was observing my kids more, was there on at least three times a month — she saw my kids,” she said. “I thought she came with CPS “
Two months later she learned the difference between a CPS worker and a CASA advocate when the advocate told her she would not make her usual visit because of a business trip. Morris, a bank manager, said she demanded the visit but the advocate explained she was a volunteer advocate. CASA advocates are required to spend at least 10-15 hours on their case and make personal visits with the children once a month, though most spend more time than that.
“In that moment, I felt the smallest I have ever felt in my life and I just bawled,” she said.”I was speechless and I immediately apologized for kind of getting bossy with her. It was that moment for me that truly changed my entire outlook on what was going on. And it’s why I’m here today.”
At the end of the CPS case, Morris adopted the children and started advocating for CASA, speaking at the United Way Speakers Bureau and sharing her story. She recruited many of her friends to volunteer at CASA as well.
“Just because you get adopted doesn’t mean it fixes everything,” she said. “But it definitely means that you have a permanent place and no one’s coming to get you and move you.”
In March, Morris left a 19-year career in banking to lead the organization.
“I always loved my job … but there’s just something that kind of comes across you one day that you just kind of realize there’s a much greater purpose” she said. “I did not go through this and live this in my life for this many years to wake up in every day and go do banking. I lived this so that I could support and grow this organization.”
Like the children she adopted, a majority of the more than 1,400 children who entered the foster care system this year do not have an advocate to be their voice in CPS cases.
She said the CASA advocate assigned to her children changed their lives nine years ago because they finally had an advocate who listened when one of the children asked to be placed with Morris.
“They received the greatest gift of their whole life, which was their CASA,” she said, “someone to get to know them, to get to be part of their plan. Someone to say, “Now we are going to find you a future, we are going to find you a stable home environment. We are going to make sure you guys are going to stay together. We are not going to have you keep going back and forth."