Last night, Macy’s parents were caught using drugs again, so she was removed from them and placed in foster care. Macy’s life had been in turmoil for a while already; her family was evicted from their home and they were drifting between places, staying with friends. Her parents had recently lost their jobs and she witnessed them fiercely fighting all the time. But still, she had never been away from her parents before, and now she worried even more, “When will I see my parents again, and what’s going to happen to us?”
Not only was her head full of worries about her parents, she was now in a new home and felt she had no one to talk to about her feelings and fears. She was going return to her same school in this new placement, but her whole world felt different and turned upside down. She had been getting into trouble at school a lot lately, and the chaos at home meant that her grades were suffering too. Her constant worries made her sick and she dreaded trying to navigate school more than ever now.
Although Macy’s story is a work of fiction, it is based on the many stories of the children served by Porter County CASA. Recently the CASA program gave a presentation to local schools with the twofold purpose of familiarizing school staff to the role of CASA, and strengthening their understanding of trauma in children. CASAs, or court appointed special advocates, are trained and dedicated community volunteers who advocate for the best interests of abused or neglected children in court.
CASAs want to know the child’s story so that they can provide the court with in-depth information and recommendations based on their unique knowledge of the child’s case. They talk with important people in the child’s life, like teachers, who spend more hours in the day with the children than most and have a wealth of knowledge about their students. Teachers often have an understanding of the child’s personality, learning style, and parental involvement, all of which helps the CASA find out more about the child’s story and gain an understanding of their needs.
CASA Program Director Sarah Fink, CASA Supervisor Emily Hoak, LCSW, and CASA Volunteer Jan Bapst, a 21-year veteran in local school administration, led the presentations. Over 300 school administrators and staff from Portage and Duneland School Corporations attended the lectures. Bapst stated, “Teachers and administrators appreciated receiving information about the CASA program. They had a lot of good questions and comments that really helped expand the conversation about helping our children.” After the first presentation to school administrators, CASA received requests for materials and invitations to speak at additional schools.
For children like Macy, who experience profound loss, instability, and trauma, school can be very difficult. “Trauma changes the way the brain is wired and can make it hard for these kids to stay on task, pay attention, make friends, and cope with painful emotions. This can be really challenging in the classroom,” said Hoak. She further stated, “We want to recognize the hard work teachers and school staff put in day in and day out to help these kids achieve, while also helping staff gain a stronger understanding of what’s going on inside children with a trauma background.”
Teachers play a critical role in children’s lives and more and more are required to wear many hats in the classroom like educator, motivator, mentor, counselor, and parent, all in an effort to inspire students toward their best work. “The school presentations provided a platform for a mutually beneficial exchange of information and affirmation between groups of people who are invested in seeing these children thrive”, commented Fink. When teachers and CASAs work in concert, children who have experienced abuse and neglect are better able to get their needs recognized and met.
For more information on how you can become a CASA volunteer, or if you are a school administrator interested in scheduling a presentation at your school, contact the CASA program at 219-464-9585 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about volunteering for CASA, the next CASA Volunteer Information Meeting is scheduled for March 26th at 5:30 located at FYSB, 253 W. Lincolnway in Valparaiso.
Porter County CASA is a program of Family and Youth Services Bureau. FYSB is a non-profit agency serving youth and families for over 46 years whose mission is to assist youth and families through supportive services that create a positive change for Porter County.