Amber’s Journey To Winning It All
It started when Amber* was three years old and started going to daycare. She started hitting the teacher. It was hard to tell what was causing the outbursts. It could be triggered by anything: needing to put the blocks away or move to a different room. Amber would blow up, lose control, and become violent. Something was wrong, but Amber’s mom, Jennifer* couldn’t understand what was happening or how to help her.
They tried play therapy and had her tested for special education, where she qualified with emotional disturbance. The specialists would sit with her and couldn’t understand what was causing these outbursts, much less how to help Amber. Jennifer said that during Amber’s episodes, it was like she was a different kid. “She would say horrible things and act out of control. It was like she couldn’t hear you like she was somewhere else.” Even though Jennifer was doing everything right and trying to get her daughter help, the problem continued to worsen.
Finally, at seven years old, Amber was partially hospitalized at Dallas Children’s Hospital, diagnosed with Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder, and put on medicine for the first time to try and help her impulse control. They said the medicine might make it worse before it got better, but Amber began to become violent at home for the first time. Jennifer feared for the rest of the family’s safety and had to call CPS on her own child. After being denied at first, a caseworker recommended a joint conservatorship to help the family get help. Amber went to her first Residential Treatment Center (RTC), and Jennifer asked their attorney about options for help navigating the system. Finally, someone mentioned CASA, and Advocate Supervisor Kimberly Witt was assigned to the case.
Kim met Amber for the first time when she was being transferred from her first RTC to the second because of her behavior. She saw firsthand Amber’s violent behavior when she refused to go with them to the next facility and was swearing and hitting things. After many hours Kim was able to calm her down and get her to the new RTC. After arriving and touring the facility, Amber became angry again when they were trying to leave. A staff member tried to step in, and she attacked him. They had to call 911, and eventually, she was taken to a hospital.
Now with CASA advocating on the family’s behalf, they were able to get Amber into a counselor that worked well with her. Kim checked in with Jennifer every other day and developed a good relationship. Jennifer said, “I didn’t know how to navigate the system and advocate for her. CASA helped by knowing the resources, how to navigate the system, and figuring out what to do.” Since so many of the other resources had not been able to help Amber, CASA advocated for a specialist to be ordered. This was not usual, but with the judge’s help, the specialist was ordered. Kim said that was a turning point for Amber to get the help she really needed.
Throughout this time, one thing that made Amber happy was playing sports. Her dad loved sports. Since she was little, she carried around sports equipment and started playing when she was very little. Amber was a natural at her favorite sport and enjoyed playing. She still struggled at times with anxiety and relationships with her teammates, especially when joining a new team, but while so many other things in her life felt out of control, she said this sport was the one thing she felt good at. Playing motivated her and was like therapy, helping her see her own value and worth even as she struggled with managing her disorder.
Amber played on two different teams in her favorite sport. One year her team made it to the highest level of competition for her age group. This would mean spending a week traveling with the team, and Jennifer wasn’t sure how she was going to afford it. Kim reached out to CASA to see if there was anything that could be done. An email was sent out to the CASA Community about the need and circumstances, and a local business donated the entire amount to cover their expenses. Amber played well and, in the championship game, scored crucial points to help the team win.
Jennifer said, “When she scored in the championship game, there was so much that nobody knew about how much it meant. Those who knew said they’d never seen her smile like that. It was almost like at that moment, all the pain and all the stuff she’d been through, she showed that she could get through it and do these things. That she was strong enough and could do it.”
It’s a privilege for CASA to be a part of these cases and be able to advocate for children and families like Amber and Jennifer. If you are interested in becoming a CASA volunteer, you can visit casaforeverychild.org, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (254) 304-7982 to find out more information.
*Names have been changed to protect confidentiality.