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Success Stories

Working Together for Children

Andrea Harrison and Marisa Rowe accept their Darlene Kamine Advocate of the Year Awards alongside their CASA Manager Jessica Widecan.

ProKids has several co-CASA teams: spouses, friends, mothers and daughters. Andrea Harrison and Marisa Rowe are one of those pairs — they’re sisters. And together, they are a powerful force for our children — uniquely able to lean on and learn from each other.

A CASA Volunteer of 6 years, Marisa is experienced, analytical and a keen researcher.

A CASA Volunteer of 3 years, Andrea is empathetic and an incredible listener, central to forming trusting bonds with children and caregivers.

In their current case, Marisa and Andrea serve 3 children, “Aleah,” “Jordan” and “Dakota,” who were 9, 7 and 4 when they entered the child protection system.

From coordinating special needs services and therapeutic programs to fielding daily texts from their caregiver — even helping them rescue a stray cat and kittens — this CASA team has been invaluable.

But building this trust was a process. In their first visits, the children were polite but withdrawn, giving “yes, ma’am” or “no, ma’am” to all of their questions.

Going forward, they focused on play during visits, treating these children like any other kids. And in the meantime, they gathered information from their aunt, who they had been placed with, as well as other professionals on their care team.

Initially, they gathered that the children’s trauma stemmed from witnessing the abuse of their mother at the hands of their father. But soon after their removal, the middle child, Jordan, disclosed he had also been abused.

Their father threatened caseworkers and the children’s caregiver, so visits with him were halted before they even started. Their mom was allowed visits at first. But each time she visited, their aunt and CASAs noticed a pattern: the kids had outbursts and nightmares in the days after.

Based on their distress, Job and Family Services and ProKids advocated for the visits to be stopped and the matter investigated. Soon after, the kids disclosed that their mother had also abused them. Their behaviors had been a reaction to the fear of being in her presence.

With four separate caseworkers and multiple therapists coming and going throughout the case, Marisa and Andrea were truly the experts on these children — the only people who could connect the facts from start to end — delivering recommendations with confidence.

They were also integral in shaping the day to day — ensuring the children got everything they needed.

Initially, Jordan had been kicked out of school almost daily… by 8:30 in the morning. They saw his fear and anger manifest through throwing desks, hitting teachers and cussing out his fellow students.

Marisa and Andrea advocated that each child receive therapy, and in Jordan’s case, that he also receive assessment and services for special needs. Later, to foster their incredible potential, they even helped to enroll Aleah and Jordan in a gifted school, where they could be actively challenged and given individualized attention.

Today, Jordan has no significant behavioral issues, plays on the soccer team and enjoys school.

As the youngest, Dakota, gets older — now able to express her own anxiety through words and behaviors — Andrea and Marisa are working to shepherd her through access to additional services to help her heal.

Recently, they began advocating, alongside her therapist, that she start in a therapeutic educational program. And this year, after the CASAs worked tirelessly to gain buy-in from her school district, Dakota will shift from a half day to a full day program. Now, the little girl can attend her therapeutic program in the morning before shifting to an afternoon of learning (in a small classroom with constant access to a teacher, therapist and intervention specialist).

Today, those polite and scared little kids are on a path toward permanency. They smile at their CASAs and run to greet them during visits. They invite Andrea and Marisa to karate showcases, soccer games and school VIP days.

While ProKids is awaiting a final decision on custody, Marisa and Andrea are hopeful. With a final say from the court, they hope these children can achieve peace of mind — knowing they’ll be safe and secure with their aunt permanently.

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