MCALLEN, Texas (KVEO) — After being in foster care for years, one Rio Grande Valley resident is proving that hard work and determination will lead you to success.
At the age of 13, Larissa Covarrubias entered foster care and remained until adulthood.
“I felt a little nervous because I felt like I wasn’t going to be taken care of like I wasn’t going to be taken seriously, that I was just going to be brushed under the rug,” she said.
Covarrubias and her siblings were fostered by her grandparents, allowing them to stay together, which was her biggest concern.
Despite the odds, Covarrubias did well, finishing high school early and moving on to college.
“I was mainly working and going to school, then I ended up getting pregnant with my son,” she said.
Though this deterred her path, Covarrubias – now 24, while her son of 5 – followed her grandparents to Texas and is back in school.
She believes if had not been for her Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer, she would not have made it this far.
“Holly taught me how to take initiative,” she said. “She taught me how to just continue to believe in what I stood for. She taught me to never give up, and that’s where I always told myself, ‘I can do it’.”
CASA exists across the country.
“We go visit the children in the home, we get to know the families and we advocate for the child’s best interest,” said CASA of Cameron and Willacy Counties Communication Director Ivette Jimenez.
Just as more issues have arisen during the pandemic, so has help.
“During the pandemic, we noticed an increase in cases — specifically domestic violence,” said CASA of Cameron and Willacy Counties Volunteer Coordinator Lacey Ambriz. “We also noticed there’s been an increase in volunteers because we were able to transition to online.”
According to the Benchmark Family Services Region 11 director, they receive 200 to 300 referrals a month, whereas they can admit a maximum of 15.
“There’s a huge need — a greater need than we’re able to serve,” said Osiris Canedo said. “That’s kind of the greatest problem right now.”
Benchmark offers therapeutic foster care, meaning the children have undergone trauma and require extra supervision and therapy.
“Last year, November, December, incidents kind of increased with suicide [attempts], running away,” she said. “They were just done, the kids are stressed out too. It can be hard for them.”
She said by the age of 12, a child’s chances for adoption become slim. Though in Texas they are eligible for extended foster care to the age of 21, by this time they are often ‘fed up’ with the system.
“They either run away, leave, go with the boyfriend, girlfriend, get pregnant,” Canedo said. “There’s a lot of anger that they have, and that’s kind of how they go about it.”
Despite the support still available to them – free tuition at any public university and transitional learning services – Canedo believes it’s despair that holds them back.
“Their parents already gave up,” she said. “Sometimes parents give up the rights just like that. They really don’t care.”
What she believes it will take to reverse the probable gloomy outcome for their lives are foster parents and mentors who really care.
“Accept the challenge and make the difference because you can really make a difference in that child’s life if you’re really committed to not giving up, to keeping that child and providing whatever is needed,” she said.
With the extra time she had on her hands as a result of the pandemic, Covarrubias became a CASA volunteer, sponsoring two teenage girls.
“I totally relate to them a lot,” she said. “They’re angry and I was angry. I was upset. I didn’t know what was going on. I just wanted to find a place and call it home.”
Covarrubias is hopeful to continue making a difference in their lives and paying her own experience forward.
“For the most part, I’m pretty happy with where I’m at right now and I think that’s because I had all this support behind me,” she said.
If fostering isn’t an option, Canedo says there are still ways you can help, like taking a child on a day trip or just sharing the need for foster homes with anyone who may be interested.
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. CASA would like to remind the community that if they notice unusual markings or withdrawn behavior in a child, this could be a warning sign of abuse that should be reported to Child Protective Services.