As someone who experienced the foster care system, writer Virginia Castleman recognizes the power of guiding figures in a child’s life.

Today, Castleman’s novel Sara Lost and Found can be seen in stores around the world. Castleman herself can be found teaching English and writing at Truckee Meadows Community College and working to develop the next novel in her series.

Looking back, her life was not always so simple. When she was as young as four, she found herself thrown into the disorienting processes that often shape the foster care system. She explains that being so young, she only recalls her emotions in the system.

“I do remember what it felt like to be moved, to pack up quickly and to have the experiences that so many foster care kids do,” Castleman said. “For us we were bounced many, many times at these houses – maybe a week at a time, maybe a couple of days.”

While Castleman was able to find a path from the foster care system to eventually make a family of her own, thousands of children still face this system today.

In 2015, the Children’s Bureau reported around 430,000 children in the foster system, and the numbers don’t appear to be improving. From 2011 to 2015, an average of almost 17,000 more children enter the system than leave the system each year.

“I would have to say that our foster care, and our almost half a million kids in the foster care system, could be called an epidemic,” Castleman said. “It’s a cry for figuring out what family means, defining family and making sure that we’re imparting those values on our children.”

For these thousands of kids, the foster care system is an overwhelming part of their lives. Castleman uses her novel to help those who are not in the system understand what it may entail, and to help give those in the system an understanding of their own experience.

Her novel’s main character, Sara, and her sister, Anna, go through a similar process as Castleman did in her childhood. This story illustrates the reality of what children may face within the foster care system.

“And a huge issue…because it’s one of the keywords that foster and adopted struggle with all their life, is trust,” Castleman said.

After going through the system, the orphanage and separation from her biological parents and siblings, Castleman was finally found. It was here, in her home, that she learned to trust and to grow. It was here that she began for find a passion for writing that has become essential in her life today. Her parents played a huge role in shaping this love for writing.

“They valued education, and I think that’s the key,” Castleman said. “They wanted to make sure that education was part of our lives.”

In fact, her first interest in taking writing seriously was in high school when, at the top of one of her writing assignments, her teacher prompted her to consider writing for a living.

Following this advice, she began to pursue becoming an author. Under the care and values of her parents, as well as a guiding teacher at school, she could recognize an interest that she would later turn into the novel and her teaching.

For kids still in the foster care system, many continue to struggle to find a strong figure in their lives like the ones that inspired Castleman.

“People that have been in multi-family situations – when you have to go through temporary foster care to another temporary setting – you don’t really get to be warm and fuzzy with the families that you’re living with. You don’t get to know them very well,” Castleman explained.

Surrounded by so many temporary settings, it is harder for children in a foster system to find someone to trust. They need someone to help them understand the chaos that kids may not be able to comprehend. Considering this, Castleman explains the relevance that a CASA, or a Court Appointed Special Advocate, plays in the life of a foster child.

“It’s extremely important for kids to connect with their case worker and feel like they have somebody who is truly an advocate, somebody who is a support system for them,” Castleman said. “If I had to put a word to an advocate, I would say this is someone you can trust.”

For these children, a CASA is someone who understands the child. It is a strong figure in their life that they can count on to fight for them. With this, a CASA can take all aspects of the child’s life and apply them to supporting each child.

“It’s just understanding that we are caught in the middle, and that foster kids and adoptees sometimes, are caught in the middle,” Castleman said. “I think that CASA helps give them a voice.”

Join us for writing workshops with Virginia Castleman on October 21st and October 29th.  

1:00-2:00 p.m. – “Build a Scary Story” writing workshop for elementary school-aged children.
3:00-5:00 p.m. – “Build a Scary Story” writing workshop for middle and high school youth.

Visit https://washoecasafoundation.com/event/book-tober-fair/ for more events to enjoy!

Written by Caitlin Pupich, Washoe CASA Foundation Intern