CASA volunteers head back to school

Aug 20 2013

By Callie Langford

As we all prepare to head back to school this fall, our CASA volunteers are spending a little extra time in the classroom as well. Dozens of CASA volunteers participated this summer in our continuing education series on advocacy for CASA children in the classroom. “Children in care face a lot of educational hurdles, starting with neglect by their parents and made worse by the frequently chaotic nature of being caught up in a CPS case.  Getting an adequate education is very important to their futures, and this is an area in which CASA can make a significant contribution by monitoring the child's educational progress and providing encouragement to everyone involved in the educational process,” said Melissa Winans, a CASA volunteer who attended the whole series and led one of the trainings.

“The CASA volunteers’ connection and presence in our children’s school is crucial. Placement changes with children moving to different foster homes and schools can frequently create confusion and important information can be lost. CASA volunteers can provide consistency and the continuity necessary to ease those transitions so kids can be as successful in school as possible,” said Mary Nicosia, Volunteer Retention Specialist, who planned this series of trainings.

Ian Spechler, an attorney at Disability Rights Texas, hosted the first of this series of trainings with a focus on Special Education and advocating for children with disabilities. In this workshop, volunteers had the opportunity to be certified as an educational surrogate parent which extends their abilities to advocate for their CASA children in the school setting. We offer an annual surrogate parent training to CASA volunteers.

CASA volunteer Wanda Hayes joined Melissa Winans in presenting the second training of the summer, and CASA volunteer Courtney Valentine, with the help of doctoral student Chelsea Brewer, hosted the third. They all shared from their combined years of experience with CASA and educational advocacy, as well as some of their professional experience, and taught other volunteers about educational passports, working with school staff members, online resources for monitoring a child’s educational passports, important documents and more. “In the July training we laid out a road map for how to start your educational advocacy in a new case and how to keep it going thereafter, starting with how to introduce yourself to school staff and gain their cooperation and going on to ways to encourage and support the child, the caregiver, and the CPS caseworker.  We also demonstrated how to access a child's records on line and discussed the technological challenges facing caregivers and children and ways to address them.  Finally, we gave tips on what types of information are of interest to our judges and how to make what you report meaningful,” said Melissa about the training she facilitated with Wanda.

All of the trainings had a strong turnout amongst our volunteers. Mary Nicosia shared that “it was wonderful seeing so many committed volunteers in attendance at our trainings this summer. School advocacy can be overwhelming, so it’s important to provide guidance and tools to help our volunteers feel confident and prepared.”