Jun 03 2015
By Steven Olender
It hasn't been easy to tell lately, but somewhere between the dreary skies and the thunderstorms, summer snuck up on Travis County. When I began asking our Child Advocacy Specialists about summer for children in the child welfare system, I had a very specific set of ideas in mind of what I'd learn and what I'd write. I figured I would describe my family's yearly trips to Cedar Point and cherry pit spitting contests in the back yard. I expected then that I would contrast that with tough stories I heard about summers for foster children, whose lives unraveled without the stability that school provides.
And to a degree, I was right. Our Child Advocacy Specialists told me about children who felt unmoored and alone during summer, without the consistent support of teachers. Many children who are served by CASA volunteers had family traditions like mine in which they can no longer partake. Many leave behind great summer programs when they are forced to switch schools. I heard about kids who spend summer days unsupervised because their foster parents work and about tweens who were sent to day care with their three year old siblings because it was the easiest way to keep them safe during the day.
But I was also wrong. I heard wonderful stories I hadn't even considered. Sometimes kids are placed with families - including, whenever possible, their own relatives - who make it a priority to have have cookouts every weekend and who set up tents to camp out in their backyard. Sometimes kids even get to be included in family vacations to the beach for the first time. Sometimes not going to school means one less stressor weighing on a kid's overburdened mind and two months of being able to focus on self-care. And for kids whom we are trying to get reunified with their families, sometimes summer gives them that time to heal and bond. Sometimes summer is exactly what a kid in the foster care system needs.
When we think about kids in the child welfare system, it's easy to get caught up in looking for things that are going wrong for kids, but that's not what I found. At least not all of it. The one thing that every Child Advocacy Specialist mentioned to me was the uncertainty. Whether summer presents instability or gives kids the chance to finally build happy family memories, it always means change for foster kids.
A CASA volunteer gets the opportunity to be that one person in a child's life who is always a certainty, who is there to celebrate a decisive win in the cherry pit spitting contest or help a kid realize that even without his teachers for support, he's not alone. So if you can find a break in the rain, go out and start some summer traditions of your own, but while you're at it, think about the kids in foster care who might be struggling right now. Challenge some of your ideas about life for kids in the child welfare system or attend an info session to learn more about becoming a CASA volunteer. Figure out how you can help.
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