Jan 15 2019
By Ashika Sethi
Childhood can be a varied and tumultuous evolution in a person’s life. It’s safe to say we didn’t have the same wants and needs as a 2-year-old as we did as an 18-year-old. As Court Appointed Special Advocates for children in foster care, we’re advocating for both the needs of toddlers and teenagers, and every age in between.
From baby bottles to graduation caps, age definitely affects how CASA advocates in the courtroom for kids in the child welfare system.
Infants and Toddlers
We cannot simply ask a baby how they are feeling. Fortunately for us, actions speak louder than words.
“The main areas of concern for children under the age of three revolve around developmental milestones,” says Brooke Hathaway, Advocacy Program Manager.
As child advocates, we’re mindful of whether or not a baby is reaching developmental benchmarks for their age range. This includes a baby’s sleeping patterns, eating habits, whether or not they are verbal and moving or crawling. We ask placements about these milestones and are also looking into how the baby interacts with the placement—whether or not they feel comfortable around them and are soothed by their presence. If a child is under the age of three, we can request an Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) evaluation be done if we notice they may be developmentally behind.
“Babies’ brains are developing at a very high rate,” says Fran Markowski, Senior Child Advocacy Specialist. “It is imperative we step in and advocate for them at this critical point in their lives.”
Doctors' appointments are also on the forefront of our advocacy for babies and toddlers. We make sure the child is having regular checkups and we’re asking the doctors about their physical and mental developments to see if they’re on track.
There are a lot of young parents who have children under the age of three that are involved in the foster care system. As child advocates, we are here to advocate for help for young mothers and fathers to attain the skills necessary to properly take care of babies and children. If parents need extra guidance, we can advocate for protective parenting classes or a parent coach who can help advise on best caregiver practices for young children.
“I’ve worked with several infants and toddlers, and I enjoy witnessing how far they developmentally progress,” says Florencia Grauer, Senior Child Advocacy Specialist. “However, we have to be mindful to not insert judgement when advocating for babies, since they cannot simply tell us how they are feeling. It’s an added challenge.”
Never fear—we are always here at CASA to help volunteers learn what developmental milestones and benchmarks to keep in mind when advocating for infants and toddlers.
Children and Pre-teens
Once a child is old enough to go to school, we become mindful of their mental and social progress. We are aware of their social interactions, and if they are engaging in proper boundaries with other children and their teachers.
During our advocacy, we consistently check in with a child’s teacher to see what the child’s behaviors are like in class. Since school aged children spend a majority of their time in a classroom setting, teachers can give us an incredible amount of information about a child’s behavior patterns, family relationships, and interactions with their peers.
In the classroom, kids typically talk a lot about families, and it can be a tough time for children in foster care because their family may not look like everyone else’s. As advocates, we can talk with children about their families and who they feel safe with, when appropriate.
Trauma can manifest in a multitude of ways, and we want to keep in mind if a child is in need of extra support in the classroom. If a child’s sensory needs are not being met or they are exhibiting signs of food insecurity, we can talk with the school to help this child have the tools necessary to feel comfortable in their classroom surroundings. Learn more about how we stay trauma-informed in our educational advocacy here.
At this age, we can also start advocating for extracurricular activities, like art class or basketball. These extracurricular activities are vital for children to ensure a sense of normalcy in their lives. When a child is moving from placement to placement, having a consistent place where they can be each week and engage in an activity they enjoy can help a child feel more comfortable in their surroundings.
“Working with teens is an expectations game,” says Alejandro Victoria, Advocacy Program Manager for the Teen Advocacy and Permanency Project (TAPP) team. “We must be flexible and fluid as a teen’s needs change. It is imperative we are non-judgemental.” What we have in our mind as the ideal situation for a teen isn’t the perfect situation for every teenager. There are a wide range of scenarios for success in that young adult’s life, and we increase our chances of helping them attain their goals if we are non-judgemental about their life choices.
The first area child advocates are concerned about for teenagers in the system is long-term permanency. If a teen is close to turning eighteen, we are up against the clock to find a proper and appropriate living situation for them before they age out of foster care.
We also advocate for a circle or network of support for teenagers. This circle includes people who can help the teen plan for their future and help them gather all the tools and resources they need to live the lifestyle they want after they’ve aged out of foster care. We help educate teens about the benefits they can receive and documents they need to keep safe, including their birth certificate, ID, and social security card.
When a teen is close to turning eighteen, we at CASA make sure to celebrate that important milestone. We have thrown surprise parties and have arranged all sorts of celebrations to make sure that eighteen year old feels a sense of normalcy during this important time in their lives. Read more about the lives of teens who are about to age out of foster care here.
From baby bottles to graduation caps, we at CASA are here to lend a helpful hand to ensure every child, big and small, has all the tools necessary to succeed in life.
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