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June is National Reunification Month!

“Reunifying children back with a parent is one of the best possible outcomes in dependency neglect cases because when that happens it means the parent has remedied the underlying issues and has shown that the child will be safe with that parent. CASA’s work creates an understanding of the child’s perspective and insight into what’s in the child’s best interest.  CASA volunteers work closely not only with the child, but also the parents, ad litems, DHS staff, counselors and others. This provides a unique and comprehensive look at these cases which is vital to the process of reunification.  CASA volunteers are invaluable to reunification!” – Honorable Judge Stacey Zimmerman


Each June, we recognize National Reunification Month, and take some time to celebrate the individuals and organizations that are putting in the work to support, strengthen, and preserve families.

The case goal for nearly every family involved in a foster care case is to be reunified as soon as safely possible. Aligning with the 2020 National CASA/GAL Standards, we recognize that:

  • It is in a child’s best interest to remain with their family of origin whenever possible
  • Children experience trauma when separated from their family of origin
  • If a child is removed from their family of origin, it is in the child’s best interest to be reunified with their family as soon as safely possible

Removing children from their families is, in its very nature, traumatizing. Removal causes trauma to children and to their parents, and this damage can impact a family system for generations. By being passionate advocates for safe and supported reunifications, we can help empower families to heal and reconnect.

CASA volunteers play an important role in supporting families to reunification by:

  • Helping foster families and biological families connect and communicate to build trusting and positive partnerships.
  • Assisting biological families as they access supportive services and increase family stability
  • Advocating for opportunities for quality family time to maintain and build healthy connections between biological family members and their children.
  • Exploring options for family placements and family contact. Family or kinship placements can minimize the trauma associated with removal from home, ease anxieties often associated with traditional foster placements, and maintain cultural ties for children.

CASA of Northwest Arkansas is proud to partner with families in the work of reunification. Every day, CASA volunteers find ways to support the biological family members on their cases. Whether by providing information about community resources, pushing for consistent and meaningful family time, or just being a listening ear to a parent in need, these volunteers believe deeply in the power of reconnection.

The work of reunification is hard. It requires a lot on the part of the family and those who are working to support the family. But when this hard work pans out, when children can be reunited with their families in a secure and loving environment, that makes all the effort worth it.

You can learn more about the impact of our volunteers here. 

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month

Every year in April, you can find pinwheels throughout Northwest Arkansas (and across the nation!) spinning brightly in spring winds. These pinwheels, which often bring childhood innocence and playfulness to mind, are a national symbol for Child Abuse Prevention Month. During April, communities across the United States plant pinwheels as a reminder that child abuse and neglect are 100% preventable.

Strong and supported families are better equipped to care appropriately for children. Communities that are invested in ensuring that all families can thrive help stop child abuse and neglect before it even starts!

The Child Welfare Information Gateway has identified six protective factors that help families thrive:

  1. Attachment and nurturing in relationships
  2. Education about child/youth development and positive parenting practices
  3. Parental resilience
  4. Social connections
  5. Concrete support for families
  6. Positive social/emotional skills in children

CASA volunteers can play a vital role in helping the families that they serve thrive. CASA volunteers support not only the children on their cases but also the parents, grandparents, and

extended family members. CASA volunteers help connect children and families to community resources, find creative solutions to problems, and offer themselves as listening ears when needed.

As advocates for children who have already experienced abuse and neglect, CASA volunteers are committed to ensuring a consistent voice, safe home, and promising future for their CASA kids. Often, this is accomplished by supporting and working to equip families for successful reunification with their children. Setting families up for success is key to preventing future abuse and neglect.

This April, we invite you to get involved in National Child Abuse and Prevention Month by supporting our mission and work at CASA of NWA!

How can I get involved?

  1. Register for a CASA 101 information session and learn more about becoming an advocate
  2. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn
  3. Donate to CASA of Northwest Arkansas
  4. Visit the Child Welfare Information Gateway to learn more about their approach to prevention

Showing the love for our CASA kids!

It’s February and love is in the air!

From boxes of chocolates and bouquets of roses to heart-shaped cards and handwritten notes, Valentine’s Day is here and it’s time to show our loved ones what they mean to us.

But as with many holidays, Valentine’s Day can be a tough one for children and young people in foster care. Holiday class parties can be a reminder that you aren’t living with your parents. Valentine’s exchanges can feel isolating if you’ve just moved to a new school and haven’t made any friends yet. Living in your own apartment for the first time can feel lonely if no one sends a note reminding you that you are cared for and loved.

During this day of love, we are so thankful for our thoughtful, committed, and kind volunteers. They not only advocate for the children on their cases in the courtroom but also take the time to show love to their CASA kids, on Valentine’s Day and every other day. 

  • When Susan’s CASA youth moved into their first independent living apartment, Susan made sure to bring a Valentine’s gift to her regular monthly visit.
  • When Jessi’s CASA youth was living in a shelter setting, Jessi scheduled a Valentine’s Day visit and brought a stuffed animal, candy, and a treat specific to her youth’s home country.
  • Deborah visited with her CASA child and helped her decorate a box for her class’s Valentine’s Day party.
  • Jan wrote and mailed Valentine’s cards to all three children on her case.

The role of a CASA can be a very personal one. Through monthly visits with children, and regular contact with family members, a CASA volunteer gets to know the people and facts involved in a way that may not be feasible for a caseworker or attorney who has a much higher caseload. Assigning a CASA to only one or two cases allows the CASA to invest more time and attention to the case and creates opportunities for them to support children and families in ways that are personal and meaningful – like remembering to celebrate them on Valentine’s Day.

This Valentine’s Day, if you are feeling the love for our CASA volunteers and the young people they serve we invite you to support them by:

  1. Following us on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn
  2. Visiting our website to learn more about the impact our volunteers have
  3. Donating to CASA of NWA to help further our advocacy efforts
  4. Attending a virtual CASA 101 to learn how YOU can become a CASA volunteer

Celebrating our Advocates for International Volunteers Day

Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.  – Steve Jobs 

We have the privilege to come alongside our volunteers in the life-changing, and world-changing, work they do with the children and families on their cases. This month, in honor of International Volunteers Day on December 5, we wanted to share some of the ways our volunteers are changing the world and some of the things our Advocate Supervisors are thankful for about their volunteers. 

Amanda Q. I love how our Carroll County advocates are supporting one another! Several advocates had such a fun time hanging out at the State CASA Conference that they started planning monthly dinners together. Each month they select a different restaurant to go to. They’ve said that they enjoy learning from one another, and being able to chat with others that understand what it’s like to work a case. There is a wealth of information among this group of advocates and it’s great that they get to share with one another!   

Kayla T. Robin S. went to visit her CASA kiddo in her placement and shopped for her before traveling. I thought it was creative and sweet that Robin coordinated with her CASA child’s therapist and the child to video chat while Robin walked through the store so her CASA child could have some input on the items she was receiving. 

Victoria B. An advocate I really appreciate right now is Shannon B. She continues to do such a great job on a complicated case involving language differences, challenges related to older youth, and cultural differences. Shannon has done a great job making sure the youth and family feel supported culturally and religiously, especially during the holiday season. Shannon has been a great voice for the teen on her case as well. She (the teen) can always count on her advocate, Shannon.   

Rachel R. I am very thankful for my advocates who step up to help our kids in need by taking on multiple cases. I know it can be a lot to juggle for them but ensuring that we are serving and supporting all our kids is our most important mission. I am very thankful that our CASA team and advocates ensure that our kids receive the consistency that every child deserves, and the opportunity to make beautiful, happy memories during a difficult transitional time in their lives.  

Genia M. Some of my cases have been really challenging so what has been motivating me and my advocates is that we are here for a reason and can only do what we can, but overall our goal is to ensure that the children’s well-being is being cared for and they have permanency.  

Ryan B. Heather W. and Sam S.A.  jumped right in with the family on their first case. They’re very engaged and I can tell they’re paying attention to the details. I watched them engage with both Mom and Dad at court this week, and they were kind and professional and gave great explanations of their roles.  

Statler K. My new volunteer, Cristen B., is assigned to a young man who is placed in a residential treatment facility and whose siblings are no longer a part of the case. Cristen visits him at least twice a week in his placement. I really think having someone to visit, bring him lunch, and ask him about his day is giving him something to look forward to.  

From CASA of NWA to every one of our volunteers: Thank you for your ongoing efforts to change the world through the work you do with children and families in our community!  

If you would like to learn more about how to create change in the life of a child through advocacy, click here!

Strategic Conversations – Communicating while Black

October is here! It’s finally (and hopefully) time for cooler weather, corn mazes, pumpkin carving, warm drinks, and sleeping with the windows open. Additionally, the month of October offers several opportunities to celebrate diversity and bring awareness to issues of inclusion and equity in our community, with Indigenous People’s Day on October 9, National Coming Out Day on October 11, and the conclusion of Hispanic Heritage Month on October 15.

At CASA of Northwest Arkansas, we strive to have an advocate volunteer base that is not only reflective of the community we serve, but also conscious and compassionate of the difficulties different communities may face. We actively recruit volunteers who are representative of the children in our program, and are consistently seeking opportunities to train and educate ourselves and advocates in matters related to topics of diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice. We’d like to take a moment to recognize several of our staff and board members who presented an excellent training centered on these very topics.

Strategic Conversations: Communicating while Black, created and presented by CASA staff Eugenia Marks, Evan Jackson, and Kayla Tave, and CASA Board Member, Jerrilyn Dailey was delivered more as casual conversation than a formal training. Eugenia, Evan, and Kayla did an extraordinary job delving into a difficult topic and making attendees comfortable. This trio explored a variety of topics and tactics advocates can employ to build rapport with parents, children, and relatives on their case(s). In addition, they presented an enlightening perspective on how a family of different ethnic backgrounds may perceive the Department of Human Services (DHS) and the foster care system as opposed to their white counterparts.

The team discussed effective communication with Black families and prompted attendees to seek greater understanding regarding the history of race, power, privilege, and oppression while being mindful and self-reflective about personal biases. Effective communication is vital in building trust and understanding between advocates and the families they support, and this becomes even more crucial when dealing with families of different ethnic backgrounds.

The conversation delved into the importance of cultural humility, empathy, and active listening as essential elements of effective advocacy. By actively seeking to understand and validate the experiences of Black families, advocates can better serve their needs and help dismantle the barriers they encounter within the child welfare system. Eugenia, Evan, and Kayla also discussed proper ways of referring to African American families – ensuring that it is okay to say Black people. They explained how breaking down social constructs and labels can be powerful in understanding Black culture and family dynamics.

Beyond just understanding the challenges, the conversation also aimed to provide actionable steps that advocates can take to become better allies and advocates for Black families. By nurturing an environment of open dialogue, fostering cultural sensitivity, and ensuring representation, advocates can play a pivotal role in promoting positive change.

As advocates implement the insights gained from this conversation, our hope is that the child welfare system becomes more equitable, understanding, and responsive to the needs of all families, regardless of their background.

— Eugenia Marks, Kayla Tave

*CASA of Northwest Arkansas does not and shall not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, gender expression, age, national origin (ancestry), disability, marital status, sexual orientation, or military status, in any of its activities or operations. These activities include, but are not limited to, selection of volunteers and provision of services. We are committed to providing an inclusive and welcoming environment for all volunteers and clients, children, parents or other family members and foster parents.

 

 

National CASA Conference 2023

Earlier this summer several of our staff and board members had the opportunity to travel to St. Louis for the 2023 National CASA conference. The conference theme this year, “Strong Families. Strong Futures.” provided participants with opportunities to dive in and learn about the tragic realities of living in foster care and why it is so vitally important to the well-being of the children we serve to support the whole family.

Our staff and board members in attendance shared some of the ideas they felt were most impactful and important to bring home with them.

Children in foster care are more likely to die, go to jail, be sex trafficked, or become pregnant than they are to attend college.

30-35 percent of our youth in care are LGBTQIA+. They are overrepresented and very underserved! -Crystal Vickmark, Executive Director

If we don’t support families, we will inevitably end up with more children in care. There are core beliefs about families (the family is incapable of taking care of their children), youth (they are exhibiting bad behaviors that cause more issues), and child welfare staff (there is not enough support) that create a never-ending cycle. Breaking this cycle at any place will lead to change.

Consistency in case workers is extremely instrumental in successful reunification for children and their families. 74 percent of cases that have only one caseworker throughout the case end in reunification. That number drops to 13 percent if a case has two or more caseworkers. -Jerrilyn Dailey, Board Member

CASA volunteers can help advocate by helping balance power in meetings, at court, or in other environments where children or parents may feel they have to fight, flee, or conform. We have to examine how our families show up to meetings and help them feel comfortable enough to speak about their needs. Otherwise, no matter the service, the problem is not fixed, and further trauma is created.

The biggest gap in the welfare system is communication. Many have been trained in trauma-informed care but not in the necessary communication skills to support children and families. Each person involved in the system should be honest, transparent, empathetic, and have the ability to actively listen. -Eugenia Marks, Advocate Supervisor

It is a privilege and not a right to be in the lives of these children and their families.

One in 100 black children’s parental rights have been terminated since the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997.  This is an astronomical number and one that should help us rethink the timelines that this law put into place.

Every decision we make has the chance to affect generations of people in one family. The recommendations we make on our cases have the potential to affect children and their families, but we must also be mindful that these can also ripple to affect future generations of that family as well. -Shelley Hart, Program Director

We need to address poverty to radically change our approach to child welfare. Changing our mindset to empower, equip, and heal is essential to course-correct the child welfare system.

Our language matters. What we call things has a massive impact on how they are perceived and the action that follows. -Elise de Waal, Board Treasurer

We have to do a better job of seeing the youth we serve as resources, rather than just objects or recipients of our support. When we look to develop or change programs, if we aren’t seeking the input and wisdom of the youth the program is intended for, then we are missing out on valuable insights. Sometimes the best ideas come from brainstorming with youth, rather than just for youth.

If we care about children, we have to also care about their families. When we remove children from their homes, it is always traumatizing for them. Children need belonging first, and then services and treatment second. Relationships and belonging are what make healing happen. -Sadie Perkins, Communications and Older Youth Specialist

Set an intention to read “A Place Called Home” by David Ambroz.

These kids are placed into a system that is not designed for them.

The importance of being an ethical storyteller. We are entrusted with their stories, and we have a responsibility with how and where we share it. -Courtney Voigt, Director of Development and Marketing 

As Shelley pointed out, it truly is a privilege to be in the lives of the children and families we serve in our community. The 2023 National CASA Conference was a powerful reminder of this privilege and inspired us to continue to join in the work of helping build strong families and a stronger future.

Types of Foster Care Placements

Types of Foster Care Placements

Foster care is a crucial safety net for children unable to live with their birth families. It provides a temporary home and supportive environment for children in need, allowing them to heal, grow, and thrive. However, not all foster care placements are created equal. There are various types of foster care placements, each with its unique challenges, benefits, and requirements. Children can be in foster care from birth to age 21, potentially living in many different types of homes throughout their time in the foster care system.

Where does a child go when they enter foster care? 

When a child’s well-being and safety are at risk, the Department of Human Services (DHS) can step in and remove the child from their home. When removed, the child(ren) is assigned a case worker. It is the case worker’s responsibility to find an immediate placement. The first place they look for placement is with a relative. If no relative is available, they look for open foster homes or other placement options. The main priority on the first night is to find a bed for the child(ren) to sleep in for the night.

On average, in our local area, a child spends 15 months in the foster care system but sometimes spends many years in the system. Here in Northwest Arkansas, we have a child who has been in care for over seven years.

Over a child’s time in foster care, they may be placed in various placements based on their needs and the current goal of the case. Throughout the case, the goal can change based on the work put into the parents’ case plan and what is in the best interest of the child. As the child is evaluated by DCFS, CASA, and other parties, recommendations for placement are put forward to the judge. These placements range from less to more restrictive based on various factors. Many of the children in our foster care system have been through traumatic experiences, which dictates various needs for the children. Below is a chart detailing the different types of placements a child can receive.

How does a CASA advocate for where a child should be placed?

CASA volunteers assess cases to understand the child’s individual needs. During the process of understanding the family history and getting to know the child, the CASA volunteer makes recommendations on placement for the child. They consider the best options for the child(ren) and look for opportunities for them to thrive while receiving the necessary level of care.

One issue our CASA volunteers encounter around placements is foster homes not having adequate space for large sibling groups. This causes siblings to be split up and placed in different foster homes. The CASA volunteer is always persistent in advocating for siblings to be placed together or live nearby and help ensure sibling visits occur regularly to maintain their bond.

Throughout the life of the case, CASA volunteers advocate for children to be placed with family members and constantly look for unidentified relatives as potential placement and permanency options. Unfortunately, in many cases, family members are not always an option for the child(ren) to stay with. Some family members do not meet the standards of the department for placement. This can be due to criminal background checks, child maltreatment checks, financial situations, and or inadequate space in the home for the child(ren). When these situations arise, the CASA volunteer looks further into the barrier and assesses whether resources and support could be offered to the family member to help get the placement of the child.

Placement types fall into the following categories and are overseen by the Child Welfare Agency Review Board and Disability Rights Arkansas (DRA). Look through the multiple pages to see each type.

 

Foster Placements

March Blog

Unassuming Heroes:

Crystal’s Twenty-Year Anniversary

at CASA of Northwest Arkansas

Crystal Vickmark has been an integral part of the business side of CASA of Northwest Arkansas during her nearly 20 years as our Executive Director.

For Crystal, though, leading CASA and the children we impact is a much more personal endeavor.

To understand just how personal our mission is for Crystal as she approaches her 20-year anniversary at CASA requires little more than a glance at the pictures in her office. Inside one of those frames rests the face of a young girl, one of nearly 20 children Crystal’s sister fostered at her home in South Dakota.

Crystal was around many of the foster children who came and went under her sister’s care, including the three her sister later adopted. But it was the little girl in the picture in Crystal’s office whom she grew particularly close to and remains a part of her daily thoughts even today.

“I keep it there and look at her every day for inspiration,” Crystal said. “What brings me joy at the office and my job is the people here. It’s knowing that the work we do is so important to so many.”

In celebration of Crystal’s 20-year anniversary at CASA, we asked her to reflect on some of the achievements, challenges, and milestones that she has been a part of leading during her time in Northwest Arkansas.

CASA: What does an Executive Director do?

Crystal: My director role has changed a lot over the past 20 years. When I took the position, it was everything; there was no development/communication staff, no office admin, no team leads, or even a program director. Our advocate supervisors did volunteer training and management, and I did everything else— fundraising, newsletters, letters, payroll, recruiting volunteers, outreach, etc.

Now my role is implementing and monitoring our strategic plans, ensuring that we are making movements toward our goals, and we are following policies and procedures and the law. I have the time and capacity to look forward. Back then, we were just making sure we were moving forward one day at a time.

CASA: What is a memory you have of the true impact a CASA Volunteer can have?

Crystal: There are so many volunteer stories that makes me go, ’wow, this is why we do what we do.’ [In one case], the teenager would act out after school after doing homework, and no one knew why. It turned out he had a second-grade reading level. It was the volunteer that noticed and brought it to everyone’s attention. Without the advocate, I just don’t think it would have been found out.

CASA: What have been some of the largest areas of growth you’ve seen for CASA?

Crystal: The largest areas of growth have been when we were able to purchase and move into our current building. We were able to triple our office space. This allowed us to add on staff, which in turn allowed us to recruit and train more volunteers, ultimately allowing us to serve 100% of children in foster care.

When we hit 100%, I cried. The goal setting was crucial; every day we could see how many more children we had to serve and how many more volunteers we needed to recruit to make it. We had been lasered focused, working towards this goal for so long that when we actually were about to achieve it, it felt like a dream.

CASA: What have been some of the most challenging areas?

Crystal: There were many difficult times over the years, but the pandemic… The pandemic was hard. I could not impart to my staff just how much we worried about their safety and their feelings, our volunteers, and the children we serve.

For the first few months of the pandemic, our leadership focused on our policies and how we can ensure the safety of our staff, volunteers, and children. There was no handbook on how to lead an organization through a global pandemic.

As time went on, the concern over our children didn’t wane. We knew children, who were no longer under the eyes of our teachers, were likely at home in less-than-ideal situations with underemployed and overly stressed parents.

We continually felt the weight of this responsibility of ensuring the safety of all these children.

We did have some positive changes that came out of it though. Like many organizations, we have been able to switch to a hybrid work schedule which has allowed many of our staff to adjust their schedules and create a better work-life balance. Our staff enjoys the freedom to be there for their family when they need them most.

CASA: What have been some of the most surprising areas?

Crystal: I didn’t realize how much community support we would have for our agency. I came in new to the NWA community, to Arkansas, and new to nonprofit leadership.  When attending meetings with other CASA programs, I quickly learned that other programs didn’t have the same opportunities that we did. Northwest Arkansas has a heart for philanthropy!

You just need to ask, and our community is there to support us.

CASA: If someone gave CASA $1 million dollars today, how would you invest it in the organization?

Crystal: Right now, there are three areas I would invest in. A parking lot, staff benefits, and family preservation.

Just before the pandemic, we completed the renovation of our Walker Family Foundation Training Room, which increased our training capacity by more than double, but then we went entirely virtual. As we’ve begun transitioning back to in-person sessions, a major problem became apparent— there are just not enough spaces for guests and volunteers to park onsite safely. So, we’ve had to begin capping our training sessions to ensure the safety of our guests, staff, and presenters.

I would also ensure our staff benefits are what they need to be. Even though we have made big headway over the last few years, I still have hopes of adding some kind of mental health component so that our staff and volunteers can have access to free mental healthcare.

Now that we are serving 100%, the natural next path is helping children stay in the home and not have to be removed. Prior to CASA, I worked in family preservation and feel that adding a CASA volunteer to the mix would add tremendous value to families in crisis, our community, and the child’s future.

CASA: What would next level mean for CASA?

Crystal: We are next level! I feel strongly that our CASA program is one of the top in the nation. On a local level, we are well known and have become an organization that our community wants to be part of. We meet all of our standards with flying colors and are always open to continual improvement.

If we were to add additional staff, it would be someone to help with data and data integrity. There are children we could help even more if we knew their educational, social, or medical baseline.  There are assessments available in our database, but we do not have the capacity to train our staff and advocates to use them at this time.

CASA: What is your superpower?

Crystal: My superpower is being able to hire people and get out of their way. I look for people that have different ideas, people that are excited about the mission and its potential and envisioning it together. There’s no way that this could happen without staff members committed to CASA.

CASA: Please describe our volunteers in one or a few words.

Crystal: Unassuming Heroes. Our advocates do not do this important work for money or fame, but because it’s the right thing to do. Sometimes they may not even realize the impact they make. A younger child might not remember their volunteer’s name as they grow up, or maybe even their actions— but their lives changed because of that volunteer. They were put on another path because of that volunteer. The impact is always there for the child.

Congratulations on 20 years, Crystal!

 

Want to learn more about CASA of NWA?

Interested in finding your own way to make an impact?

Older Youth Specialist

What Makes an Older Youth Specialist at CASA?

CASA of NWA created the Older Youth Specialist role in 2013 after seeing and understanding the gap of how this subset of foster children faces additional barriers due to a number of factors, including their extended time in care.

Older teens in care may be more likely to have experienced compounded trauma. As a result, these youth often face emotional and behavioral challenges that can sometimes be hard to manage. Older youth are also more likely to have switched schools more frequently and may be behind academically. Not only do they lose academic ground by changing schools, but they may also lose valuable time learning each week due to visitations and therapies. This can be the case for any child in foster care, however it’s more likely that older youth in particular have been facing these for a longer period of time, and they are in the middle of making a delicate transition into adulthood. Additionally, an 18+ year-old living on their own may unintentionally become less of an immediate priority in an already strained child welfare system.

These are just a few of the challenges older youth face in foster care, and this is part of why we believe it is essential to have a dedicated staff member looking out for them. According to our current Older Youth Specialist, Sadie Perkins, the “theory or idea behind the position is to be another layer of support for the kids and the advocates who are serving older youth.” It is especially important for newer advocates to know how to navigate the extra barriers older kids are likely to face and know that we have someone to go to specifically for that.

The Older Youth Specialist holds a lot of information pertaining to the services both CASA and The Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) offer older youth, as well as local community resources. For example, there are a lot of intricacies regarding independent living, including funding, employment, education, services, etc., that Sadie can walk through with our CASA volunteers and their teens. Due to staffing issues within DCFS, they do not currently have a transitional youth worker. Sadie helps fill this role by providing direct support through staffings— a time for everyone involved to talk about where the kids are, what the challenges are, what they’re working on, and brainstorm solutions. “A lot of it is being available and offering help researching options,” Sadie shared.

CASA of NWA also co-hosts an Independent Living Program (ILP) class which focuses on preparing older youth in foster care on how to transition to living independently. The topics of these classes range, including things such as setting up insurance, doing laundry, grocery shopping on a budget, maintaining a vehicle, financial literacy, and much more. We aim to introduce youth to skills and ideas they may not have been introduced to while in foster care.

Many of these older youth have a history of school transfers, missing school for court, visitations, therapy, and trauma-related issues with their mental health and behavior. It is not uncommon to see 17- or 18-year-olds in 9th or 10th grade because of the impact being in foster care has had on their education. When it comes to access to resources for these youth facing aging out of the system, Sadie can give concrete answers and get the ball rolling on what or who can pay for things.

This is why it is so important for these kids to have a CASA volunteer, someone that makes sure they are not walking alone as they make a significant transition into the rest of their lives. Our Older Youth Specialist is part of a much larger collective effort to give these kids some of the attention they need.

Sadie is motivated by sharing her knowledge with the individuals that work directly with these children, and they have no shortage of appreciation for what she does. A CASA Volunteer recently featured in our Volunteer Spotlight series had this to say about Sadie:

“Absolutely invaluable. The way [Sadie] is available to me has blown my mind with her availability and her willingness to be available to me at all times, no matter what. She has never made me feel as though I should have done something different. I truly feel like she has gotten in the trench with me; she has walked me through every single process up to today.”

That’s what makes an Older Youth Specialist.

Trauma-Informed Advocacy

This months blog post comes from Sadie Perkins, one of our two Advocate Supervisors that are trained as TBRI (Trust-Based Relational Intervention) Practitioners. We believe serving the best interests of children in care begins with having qualified and knowledgeable child welfare experts to guide our CASA Volunteers in their cases, which is why CASA of NWA invests in specialized training for our supervisors.

Trauma-Informed Advocacy

At CASA of Northwest Arkansas, we recognize that every child we work with has been impacted by trauma, which is why we seek to be trauma-informed advocates. But what does it really mean to be trauma-informed? And how should that guide how we interact with and advocate for the children on our cases?  

Trauma, very simply, can be described as a person’s emotional response to a distressing experience. All children in foster care have experienced at least one kind of trauma, in the very act of: being removed from their family. But realistically, the children we work with have likely experienced many traumas, often over long periods of time. For children in foster care, trauma is woven into the very fabric of their upbringing, and this impacts their cognitive, emotional, social, and physical development. In many cases, these traumas happen in the context of relationships, which can be particularly damaging to a child’s ability to grow and develop. At CASA of NWA, however we find hope in the fact that while trauma occurs in the family, healing can follow with the building of strong, positive relationships. And a trauma-informed CASA can be a meaningful part of that healing journey.  

The Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development provides us with three reminders as we seek to work with children in a way that is trauma informed.  

Stay Calm (No Matter What) Children who have experienced trauma often exhibit challenging behaviors and responses as a result. When faced with these responses from a child, our first goal is to remain calm, especially when the child is not calm. These behavioral can be very big and loud, may be inappropriate, can be illogical and even offensive. But a child in crisis cannot be calmed by an adult who is also in crisis. The ability to stay calm in the face of chaos requires us to be mindful of our own internal state and to care for ourselves before and after these difficult interactions. Being the calm in the storm of a child’s trauma response can build trust and connection that can help a child begin to heal.  

See The Need (Behind the Behavior) When we begin to learn about how trauma affects the development of a child, we can begin to shift our perspective from “This child is behaving badly” to “This child is trying to communicate something”. This shift in perspective can transform how we interact with and advocate for children. When we move our focus from “why are they misbehaving?” to “what does this child need right now?” we also begin to move from a pattern of punishing the child for making “bad” choices to a pattern of seeking ways to connect and help meet their needs, which ultimately leads to greater trust and healing.  

Meet the Need (Find a Way) When we begin to develop the mindset that all behavior is an expression of a need, we can better advocate for our CASA kids. If we can see the need behind the behavior, we can seek opportunities for those needs to be consistently met in a way that makes sense to the individual child. And a child who believes they are safe, that they are heard, and that they matter is a child who can begin to thrive. This pattern of consistently seeing and meeting the needs of the child builds trust in the relationship, and it allows children to begin to develop new, and more appropriate coping, social, and communication skills.  

Trauma informed advocacy does not allow for a generalized approach to working with children. It requires us to approach each child as an individual, with a trauma background that we will never fully know. It requires us to interact with and advocate for each child uniquely, as we take the time to learn who they are and what makes sense to them. It requires us to educate ourselves about the impacts of trauma and best practices for working with children who have experienced trauma. And finally, it allows us the privilege to sow seeds of hope and healing through consistent, safe, and meaningful connections.   

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