CASA focused on healing trauma to improve foster care for kids

May 20 2015

By Callie Langford

“I encounter opportunities to use my TBRI training in my everyday life. With family, friends and strangers. It’s becoming part of how I relate to people. On my CASA cases, I’m more patient, compassionate and aware with both children and parents, watching for the behaviors we’ve learned about. It’s informing everything I do.” - CASA volunteer Faye Jones

As part of National Foster Care Month in May, we wanted to share how CASA is helping to improve the Travis County foster care system through our Trauma-Informed Advocacy initiative. This initiative, launched thanks to our 2014 Impact Austin grant award, is in collaboration with the TCU Institute of Child Development and their therapeutic model TBRI (Trust Based Relational Intervention) that was developed to respond to the individual needs of children whose behaviors are influenced by trauma they’ve experienced.

“We’re learning that babies can store pre-verbal memories in their bodies,” says Supervisor Colleen Maher. “They can remember trauma even though they can’t communicate it at the time.” Trauma can originate from initial experiences with abuse or neglect, but the foster care system often exacerbates it. Being removed from a familiar home and then moving placements on a regular basis not only creates additional trauma, but also hinders healing when knowing the child and maintaining consistency is an imperative.

“The system isn’t a stable environment for these kids. That’s why we were targeted to take this on. CASA naturally plays the consistent role, being in kids’ lives that long, so [TCU] felt we were the right people to advocate for these services. CASA volunteers are in the community advocating in nearly every setting the children are involved in. Because of this unique role, CASA can help maintain a continuity in services as children move through the foster care system,” says Team Leader Charron Sumler who leads our Trauma-Informed Initiative. “The core of TBRI is understanding where they’re coming from and where they’re at, and advocating for their individual needs.”

One volunteer talked about a teen she was advocating for who did well in therapeutic work with animals but moved placements so often due to disruptive behaviors (most likely caused by traumatic experiences) that when she found a therapy that worked, she would soon lose access to it. The volunteer was able to make recommendations to a judge that led to court orders that the teen be placed in a TBRI-trained treatment center to provide a consistent focus on helping her heal from trauma.

Our staff encourages volunteers not to rule out therapists or placements that don’t contract with CPS. Volunteers should gather information and take their recommendation to the Judge. Presenting outside the box solutions is how we can make sure trauma continues to be addressed and that we’re helping children heal in the way that works for them.

“We’re fortunate to be advocating in a venue where the judges are trauma-informed and thinking from the bench about TBRI,” says Charron. The system is starting to integrate trauma knowledge and training and CASA can keep working to make sure the trauma lens is on every case so that a child’s individual needs are met.

Our next TBRI for Advocates training session is a 2-day workshop on June 12th and 13th. We also offer a library of DVDs from the TCU Institute of Child Development. We’ve just received TBRI for Teens and will soon be getting Spanish-dubbed versions of TBRI for Parents.