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Author Archives: Sadie Perkins

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.