Victoria’s Story: The Value of Child Advocacy
Victoria’s mother suffered from Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome, an exceedingly rare psychiatric disorder in which the parent seeks unneeded medical care for her children. Her mother claimed Victoria had various brain disorders, including seizures, to more than 26 medical facilities and had her prescribed psychotropic medication for several years.
Victoria had an extremely difficult childhood because her parents were both essentially incapacitated. Her mother and father were not together and her father was serving time in jail for an offense unrelated to Victoria. Victoria’s father was eventually released from jail and deported. Unfortunately, Victoria’s mother’s mental health did not improve and with no parent to care for her, nine-year-old Victoria was placed in foster care in 2004.
Victoria was placed in a caring foster home and the Guardian ad Litem (GAL) Program assigned volunteer Marielle to her case. Marielle takes her role as child advocate to heart. She has invested immeasurable time and resources in the success of each child she works with and that was no different with Victoria. Victoria was lucky to have a GAL willing to go the extra mile.
Although Victoria was in a safe comfortable home, Marielle noticed she was quiet, disconnected and was having difficulties in school. She was very artistic and visually oriented but she had trouble performing academically. Marielle advocated extensively for Victoria’s education and pushed to have Victoria’s learning challenges properly diagnosed.
As her GAL, Marielle also worked closely with medical providers to get Victoria the care she deserved. She sourced Medicaid-accepting providers for speech and language services and for vision therapy services. They soon learned that Victoria suffers from an auditory processing disorder. She has normal hearing but the brain cannot easily process what the ear hears, as a result she is language disordered and also has some visual processing issues. Although it is possible that Victoria’s disorder is a result of her mother’s push for unnecessary medical treatment, the disorder may be genetic, as her father showed signs of language disorder as well.
GAL’s truly provide foster youth with opportunities they may not have had otherwise. With Marielle’s support, after her diagnosis, Victoria was able to secure a scholarship to a private school that would meet her educational needs. In the school’s special education program, she received both language and vision therapy. Victoria worked hard and achieved good grades in her classes.
Victoria’s dependency court case closed when she was adopted near her 13th birthday. Unfortunately, the adoption proved to be unsuccessful and less than a year before her 18th birthday, Victoria was returned to the home of her long time foster parent. Victoria was always fortunate to have such a caring foster home, but she was a year behind in school, so there were big concerns about how she would manage to finish school once she turned 18 without support.
Once again, Marielle was there to advocate for Victoria’s best interest. Victoria was in danger of turning 18 without a family or the foster care system to support her. Aware of the complicated aging out process, Marielle was a step ahead and immediately had a lawyer file a dependency petition to have Victoria reentered into the dependency system at age 17. This action would allow her to age out of foster care with benefits.
After four anxious months, Marielle and Victoria were victorious; Victoria would be allowed to age out under foster care jurisdiction and therefore receive Independent Living funds. Marielle then worked to find a private school at which Victoria could earn her conventional high school diploma without taking standardized tests. Because of Victoria’s learning challenges that she had overcome to earn good grades, Marielle believed a school without standardized tests would give Victoria the best opportunity to graduate and move on to higher learning.
Today, Victoria is living in a prominent community for young woman who have aged out of foster care. She will attend the culinary arts program at Miami Dade College in the fall of 2014. Marielle is happy to see Victoria flourish into a successful young woman. Marielle tells us, “While I’ve done a lot to help Victoria, her desire to make strides toward a healthy and successful future are borne of her inner strength.”