Austin’s youngest children need your voice

Jun 06 2014

By Alejandra Pena, Volunteer Recruitment & Retention Specialist and former Child Advocacy Specialist

Some children love running outdoors. Others may enjoy their television and video games. Many kids love to sing, dance, play soccer and swim. But then there “other” children, a younger crowd, who cannot even roll over or much less stand on their own, babies. We tend to forget about engaging with our younger population because of the misconception of limited activities that can be done with smaller children. These children are the most vulnerable in our society and the ones who need more from us to get them “literally” started in life.

Right now, here in Austin, we are serving 698 children who are ages 4 and under.

As a CASA Child Advocacy Specialist, I worked with this young population for over three years and was always astonished at how much their actions and expressions can tell us. No, they cannot speak, or tell us what they have seen, but learning to read into their behavior has been a joy and quite the experience.

I remember meeting a beautiful baby girl who was suffering from withdrawal symptoms because of drug exposure while in her mother’s womb. She was in a great foster home and working with a fabulous occupational therapist. My visits in her foster home were great! She was always engaging with me and giggling. When I followed up with the CPS representative on how her parent’s visitation was going, all the responses indicated that “visits were going well, and the baby would not cry with her parents.” I finally decide to go and observe a visit between this child and her parents. It was like night and day! This was not the baby I knew, or visited with. She had a blank expression and made no sounds or significant movements throughout the visits. Was this what “going well” meant? These parents needed more coaching and engagement with their daughter. It was crucial to get someone in there to help this family bond. After CASA’s recommendation for a parenting coach and for some of her occupational therapy sessions to be held at the family’s visit, it all took place, and the baby began engaging with her parents, and her parents knew how to help her.

Austin’s youngest children need your voice, Speak up for a child who's been abused or neglected

Another child CASA worked with was 3 years old and experiencing significant delays. He lived with his mother. The CASA volunteer and I both knew this was the best place for this child, with his mother; but they needed a significant amount of help. The volunteer immediately began researching resources and services that could assist this family. Anywhere from daycares to in-home therapy, the volunteer was on top of it. If it weren’t for her, setting up services and getting this child back on track would’ve taken a lot longer. Sure, CPS can look into this and make the referrals but realistically, with their other 30-40 children on their caseloads, it would have taken a while.

Many individuals are under the impression that working with younger populations is not as engaging. Let me tell you, in my opinion that is not true.  I visited with my CASA children twice a month if possible, and their CASA volunteers saw them more than twice a month sometimes. The fact that they cannot speak to us, or if they are verbal, cannot convey information, it is crucial for us as child advocates to be in those homes, daycares, visits, etc., and see the world through our children’s eyes. In order for us to understand them and represent what is in their best interest we must understand the world they are living in and how it is functioning.

So if you’re thinking about becoming a CASA volunteer or considering taking your next case, keep in mind this young population who truly needs your advocacy. No, you may not get to go run at a park or take them for a meal but let me tell you… meeting them when they are in diapers and just learning to roll over, then walking away when they are running around, laughing and being clumsy little people is one of the best rewards ever.