This piece is part of a series of blogs we will be publishing in the coming weeks written by CASA staff and volunteers on the importance of racial justice, equity, and inclusion. The goal of this series is to highlight the importance of equity, inclusion, and anti-racism education so that we can truly honor the best interests of every child CASA serves.
Here's a bit about the author of the following piece, Dionn Schaffner:
Dionn Schaffner is a Volunteer Advocate and Chair of the CASA of Travis County Volunteer Council. She has been volunteering with CASA for over two years and has advocated for nine children. In addition, Dionn is a community advocate discovering and implementing ways to remove barriers and enable opportunities for those who have systemically lacked access and resources but desire to succeed. Some of her current volunteer positions include President of Geri's Locker, a non-profit service organization, President Emeritus of Young Men's Service League - Austin Viper Chapter, and a member of Representative Vikki Goodwin's Anti-Racism Advisory Council.
The Importance of Anti-Racism Education in Our Work as CASA Advocates
To say, “I'm colorblind” is to dismiss, ignore, and make invisible the pain and suffering of people of color." - Kristen Rogers, Dear anti-racist allies: Here's how to respond to microaggressions
To say, “I'm colorblind” is to dismiss, ignore, and make invisible the pain and suffering of people of color." - Kristen Rogers
As advocates at CASA, we see children and families come into the system with all kinds of different backgrounds. It’s our job to honor and address their unique experiences as we advocate for them throughout their case.
We do this in three parts:
Propose- We acknowledge the issues that brought the child into the system, and we propose services and actions to address the issues.
Protect- We initiate protective measures to keep children from further harm.
Prepare- We take proactive measures to help families handle these issues safely in the future.
We recommend services like therapy to address children’s mental health, as well as the mental health of the family and/or caregiver. We make sure children have doctor’s appointments scheduled and met to address any physical health needs. We review their attendance records and grades at school and meet with their educators to address their academic needs.
We advocate for these children so that their basic needs are met, and most importantly so that they are safe.
Why would we not address an element that has an effect on all areas of their lives if they are children of color?
"Why would we not address the trauma of racism? And how can we address this trauma if we do not accept that it exists?"
Why would we not address the trauma of racism? And how can we address this trauma if we do not accept that it exists?
Wait… Racism Causes Trauma?
We cannot ignore racial trauma as we advocate for the best interests of the children we serve at CASA because overt, covert, and systemic racism has existed for generations and still exists today for families of color. We could go into greater detail about that statement alone, but for this discussion, let us agree that systemic racism exists.
And that, furthermore, children of color are affected by racism, even if they’ve never experienced it firsthand:
“A black child does not even have to directly experience racism to be influenced. A 2017 systematic review of 30 studies looked at how children’s health might be affected by indirectly experienced racism. Researchers concluded that ‘socioemotional and mental health outcomes were most commonly reported with statistically significant associations with vicarious racism.’ ”
"Particularly in Travis County, the inequalities and trauma created by racism are something that we cannot ignore."
Particularly in Travis County, the inequalities and trauma created by racism are something that we cannot ignore.
UT’s Institute for Urban Policy Research & Analysis found that Travis County schools are the most segregated in the state of Texas, and according to an article in the Austin American-Statesman from 2018, “Black children in Travis County also were 4.6 times more likely to be reported to CPS as victims of possible abuse and neglect than their white peers and 5.1 times more likely to be investigated by CPS. The disparities in Travis County are the highest among the state’s seven largest counties, a recent report by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services found.”
"If we choose to be colorblind, how do we propose racial & ethnic pride as a means to promote the necessary healing of racial trauma?"
If we choose to be colorblind, how do we propose racial & ethnic pride as a means to promote the necessary healing of racial trauma?
How do we protect the children we serve from further harm if we don’t acknowledge the aggressors of racial trauma and the micro and macro-aggressions they commit?
How do we prepare them with the resources they need to combat racism and discrimination on their own as they move forward in their lives?
According to Harvard Medical School’s research, “Early childhood trauma is a risk factor for almost everything, from adult depression to PTSD and most psychiatric disorders, as well as a host of medical problems, including cardiovascular problems such as heart attack and stroke, cancer, and obesity.” Many of these are the top health concerns for the Black/African American community.
Additionally, color is a fundamental aspect of a child’s identity. What does it communicate to a child if we deny it? Developing multicultural awareness enables us to know important things like:
No—a Black girl can’t just go to any hair salon and get her braids done.
Yes—representation matters when searching for service providers.
No—telling a Black girl she’s articulate isn’t a compliment.
Okay, but what can I do?
"As a CASA volunteer for a child of color, when I sit in a courtroom, I take a look around. I try seeing it through the eyes of the children and families we serve, and I try to imagine what they’re thinking."
By saying we don’t see color, we are silent about racism. And when we are silent about racism, we are complicit with racism.
When we are silent, we are not advocating for the best interests of the children of color we serve at CASA. And we serve a lot, as the earlier statistics shared from Travis County show.
As a CASA volunteer for a child of color, when I sit in a courtroom, I take a look around.
I try seeing it through the eyes of the children and families we serve, and I try to imagine what they’re thinking:
“Who here looks like me? Not my lawyer, not the DA, not my caseworker, not the judge, yet all of these people are determining my fate and the fate of my family.”
You have to put yourself in their position, and you must approach racial trauma as an advocate in the same way you would the other traumas our children have when they come into care.
Educate yourself. Read. Research. CASA of Travis County even has a list of resources to get you started.
Review CASA of Travis County’s Diversity & Inclusion Statement and embrace it:
CASA is deeply committed to infusing the ideals of diversity and inclusiveness into every aspect of our work. By training staff and volunteers and offering programs to address disparities and challenge biases, CASA strives to develop cultural humility and awareness in working with children and families from different backgrounds. CASA also works alongside other community stakeholders to address racial disparities in the child welfare system to ensure positive child outcomes.
Celebrate diversity, embrace differences, promote racial and ethnic pride, evaluate the way you research, and if you’re a CASA volunteer, advocate for services that support healing from the trauma of racism.
Propose, Protect, Prepare.
Let’s do our part, one child at a time. We got this.
Interested in becoming a volunteer advocate? You can get started with our online Info Sessions and online Volunteer Training right now! Learn more on our Volunteer page or RSVP for an upcoming Volunteer Info Session over Zoom!
2020 Advocacy Volunteers