Mar 21 2018
By Ashika Sethi
When thinking about becoming a CASA volunteer, you might take a look at the child welfare system you’ll be working in and maybe want to take a step back. Some kids have been physically abused, some families are dealing with domestic violence or substance abuse, a parent may be in jail… you may wonder if this volunteer opportunity is safe.
You’re not alone. We get this question a lot.
While it can be nerve-wracking to begin a completely new journey advocating for children in the Child Protective Services (CPS) and foster care system, it’s important to remember why you decided to embark on this journey in the first place. It is our job to make sure children in our community can feel safe and secure, and if that means getting out of your comfort zone to do so, we at CASA think that your courageous efforts are admirable.
We have several support systems and training components put in place to make sure our volunteers feel safe and prepared in all situations related to their case.
Getting You Started on Your Case Safely
CASA never wants to put our volunteers or staff at risk of danger. Before becoming a volunteer, our trainers will give you plenty of information about how to handle family and case dynamics prior to meeting anyone on your case. After you become a volunteer and are assigned a case, you will be appointed a supervisor who will accompany you to your first visit with the child and his/her family. Your supervisor will also be available to accompany you on any subsequent visits as you see fit.
With that being said, we expect our volunteers to be responsible for their own feeling of safety as they would in any other situation. We encourage our volunteers to be mindful of the situation at hand and always be attentive to their surroundings.
Working with Family
Imagine if your children were taken away and put into completely new surroundings, possibly with complete strangers.
By the time a CASA volunteer is appointed to a case, these children have most likely been removed from their homes. When a child is put into the care of CPS, parents might feel hesitant or unfriendly to anyone who is associated with child welfare. These parents are at a very low point, so it’s easy to see how they may be responding from a place of trauma and not be at their best socially.
During training, all potential CASA volunteers receive information on how to engage with family members in effective ways to help diffuse any fear or anxiety that parents might be feeling. Most often, our volunteers are able to form great, professional relationships with family members on their cases once they explain the part we play in the system, differentiate CASA from CPS and other parties on the case, and explain the nature of CASA’s role to remain objective and focus on the best interest of the children.
However, there will be times on a case where the situation might become tense (that’s the nature of advocating for a child’s best interest – it may not always be what the family want). In these situations, our supervisors will always be there to help guide and support our volunteers.
Dealing with Tough Topics: Sexual Abuse, Mental Health Issues, Domestic Violence, Trauma Behaviors and more
These are scary topics to encounter on a case, there’s no question about it. But keep in mind that the child you’re advocating for has been though them already. Not only will you receive extensive training on each of these topics, your supervisor will be there to support you in better understanding each of the issues that comes up in a case. We also offer Continuing Education trainings and independent study recommendations to help you become better informed. The more you learn, the less scary these topics will feel, and the better equipped you will be to help children heal from what they’ve experienced.
It’s also important to remember that not every case comes into care because of physical or sexual abuse. The overwhelming majority of cases open due to neglectful supervision. In 2017 in Travis County, 1,751 out of 2,336 (75%) confirmed allegations fell into the neglectful supervision category.
With all of these factors considered, it’s important to remember that the role of a CASA volunteer is vital to children in the foster care system. They need the support and consistency that a CASA volunteer can provide. Even though the job of a CASA volunteer isn’t easy, the job is absolutely necessary to ensure that our community’s children are reaching safe, permanent homes. The safety of our children is of utmost importance and it’s up to our volunteers to step out of their comfort zone, get the proper training, and do their best to help these children through a tough and tumultuous time in their lives.
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