May is National Foster Care month, a 31-day period set aside to recognize the many individuals, families, agencies and communities that support the 427,000 children in foster care nationally.
In Northern Virginia, approximately 5,000 children and adolescents are involved in the child welfare system at any given moment. These youth range in age from birth to age 18, represent every racial and ethnic demographic and have varied economic backgrounds.
The individuals who provide a continuum of care for foster youth by becoming a resource parent, volunteering, or making donations, can be just as diverse:
Resource Parents Of the 5,000 foster youth in Northern Virginia, 63% are placed in a non-relative foster home. These placements represent community members who have undergone background checks and extensive trainings in order to open their home to a child in need. In providing consistent physical safety and emotional support to youth with a history of trauma, resource parents are champions for youth in care. Being a resource parent is not reserved for one type of family. Resource parents are married couples and single parents, home owners and apartment renters, and have varied incomes. The common thread is their desire and ability to provide foster youth with a safe, stable, loving environment so they can pursue the promising future every child deserves.
Volunteers are another way individuals make a difference in the lives of foster youth. Many volunteers elect to serve in local chapters of the nationally recognized Court Appointed Special Advocate program (SCAN runs the CASA Program in Alexandria and Arlington), but long-term advocacy is just one of countless ways to support children in foster care. Volunteering at a local child welfare organization can provide necessary help for case workers, children and families. Do you paint in your spare time? Imagine creating a mural in a childcare room. Are you a certified yoga teacher? This skill could easily translate to teaching emotional regulation. Everyone can play a role in supporting agencies, foster youth and families.
Many agencies across the country–including agencies in Northern Virginia–accept in-kind donations. Gently used clothing and supplies can help foster youth feel confident when starting at a new school, walking into job interviews, or sharing in the prom experience Individuals can even grant a foster youth’s specific wish through online platforms or send care packages to youth in college.
There is a way for everyone to advance the lives of local foster youth–how will you help?
SCAN’s Alexandria/Arlington CASA Program is a key component of our child advocacy work, and people often ask us about the program’s unique format and impact. Today our CASA Program Director LaTeeka Turner is sharing some of the most common questions we get from child welfare professionals and child advocates about this important, effective program:
Q: Who are CASA volunteers (also known as “CASAs”)?
A: CASAs are trained volunteers appointed by a local Judge to help the Judge determine what is in the child’s best interest. SCAN oversees the CASA Program for the City of Alexandria and Arlington County, working closely with the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court.
Q: What does a CASA volunteer do?
A: CASAs are responsible for taking the time to find out as much information as possible about the appointed child and the child’s circumstances through reviewing relevant records and interviewing all relevant people involved in the case, most importantly, the child. CASAs then submit a written report to the Court to recommend to the Judge what they believe is best for the child’s future. In all cases, CASA volunteers advocate for safe and permanent homes for children.
Q: What kind of training do CASAs go through?
A: Each individual is subject to a thorough screening process, including background checks, interviews, and thirty-two hours of initial training to learn about the human service system, juvenile court, and issues such as substance abuse and mental health as well as the special needs of children who are involved in custody and in abuse and neglect cases. After being sworn in by the Judge as official CASAs, volunteers must complete at least twelve hours of additional in-service training each year.
Q: Do CASA volunteers understand the importance of confidentiality?
A: Yes! CASAs must take an oath before the Court that requires them to fulfill the roles assigned to them and to do so while respecting the confidentiality of all information and/or reports revealed to them. CASAs are trained to only share information with direct parties to the case and only the direct parties to the case will have access to review the CASA reports submitted to the Judge.
Q: Can CASA volunteers provide direct services?
A: No, CASAs do not provide direct services to the child, such as supervising visitation or transporting the child.
Q: How is a CASA different from the Guardian Ad Litem (GAL)?
A: CASAs are unpaid volunteers and the GAL is an attorney representing the legal interests of your child.CASAs are not a party to the case and cannot bring a child’s case back before the Judge. The CASA’s role is one of a “Friend of the Court” and an impartial observer, conducting an investigation as the Judge would if time permitted.
Q: How do CASAs determine the child’s best interest?
A: CASAs talk with the child, parents, foster parents, other family members, social worker, teachers, attorneys, and anyone else who is important to the child. They make home visits to observe the child at least 1-2 times a month, and may also meet with the child in school or at another designated location. CASAs also review relevant records regarding the child such as attendance records or health records.
Q: What do CASAs do with the information that they learn about the child?
A: CASAs submit a written report to the Court detailing what he/she has learned from interviews, observations, and record reviews. The report also contains recommendations for what the CASA believes is in the child’s best interest. In all cases, CASAs advocate for safe and permanent homes for children.
Q: Who gets to read the CASA report?
A: The Judge, the attorneys, the assigned social workers, and the child’s Guardian Ad Litem (GAL). The reports cannot be shared or redistributed to others outside of the case per the Code of Virginia which sites the following:
Time for filing of reports; copies furnished to attorneys; Amended reports; fees.
…… “All attorneys receiving such report or amended report shall return such to the clerk upon the conclusion of the hearing and shall not make copies of such report or amended report or any portion thereof.
Q: Can CASA provide a copy of their report to someone else?
A: Unfortunately, we are not permitted to share CASA reports outside of their submission to the Court. This is a regulation from the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services(DCJS) which governs CASA and the Code of Virginia. The CASA report is the property of the Juvenile court therefore we cannot distribute the reports and that is why they are filed at the Clerk’s office and distributed from there and the clerk’s office is charged with retrieving them from parties after the hearing.
The Alexandria/Arlington CASA Program is one of nearly 1,000 local CASA programs across the country affiliated the National CASA Program. Learn more about SCAN’s CASA Program here.
The CASA – or Court Appointed Special Advocate – Program just celebrated a big anniversary in Virginia: 30 years of giving children a voice in the court systems of our commonwealth.
Based on a national model through the National CASA Program, CASA began in Virginia in 1985, when three programs launched in Roanoke, Norfolk and Newport-News. SCAN added its Alexandria CASA Program to the list in 1989, and by 1990 there would be 10 total programs. Today, 27 programs operate across the commonwealth including others in our region like Fairfax CASA and CASA-CIS which serves children in Prince William, Fauquier, Loudoun and Rappahannock. Many have expanded since their beginnings, like SCAN’s program which – thanks to incredible support from funders and those in the local juvenile court system — grew to include Arlington in 2005.
Since CASA programs began in Virginia, more than 25,700 trained citizen volunteers have advocated for abused and neglected children in Virginia. Those volunteers have given more than 2.2 MILLION HOURS in advocacy services over the years. And we are so proud to be a part of that work.
Happy anniversary, Virgnia CASA! The best way we can think to celebrate is to recruit more volunteers and advocate for more children in the coming year.
Twelve people recently stood up in a local courtroom to be sworn-in as new volunteers in the Alexandria/Arlington CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) Program. They speak different languages, come from different ethnic communities, and work in very different professions. They are medical professionals, attorneys, human services professionals and government workers. They are highly qualified, motivated, multicultural and multilingual members of our community and – after six weeks of intensive training – they are ready to advocate for abused and neglected children desperately in need of a voice.
They are richly diverse – just like the children they will now speak for in the courtroom.
This diversity is key to appointing the best possible volunteer for each child. Speaking a native language or relating to the immigrant experience or understanding an ethnic community can be invaluable in a CASA volunteer’s work with children and families.
Through recruitment and training, we work to ensure every CASA volunteer is passionate, capable and willing to give of their time and skills. But that is hopefully where the similarities end – the best volunteer base is a diverse volunteer base.
Who do you know who could give a unique voice to a child?
Most of our readers know that SCAN has three core programs: CASA, Parent Education and Public Education. From abused children already in the system to new parents bringing home a baby to families reunifying after immigration, our programs reach children and families living very different realities. These programs are complex and well-developed and effective. But they’re not always easy to explain. Over the past year, we’ve developed infographics to help us (and help YOU help us) tell the story of our programs and how they impact prevention in our community.
We hope you’ll share this post with others when you talk about SCAN and consider the impact of our prevention programs!
When SCAN moved its offices last month, one of the benefits was a new (larger) space for providing community trainings. As a staff, we started dreaming of the new ways this space could enlarge our circle of trained facilitators, volunteers and leaders.
Every time we train an adult, our children gain a connection that could make all the difference.
Tomorrow SCAN will participate in Spring2Action, a 24-hour online fundraiser in Alexandria, to raise funds that will allow us to continue (and grow) our training programs. We’ll also open the new Carol Cleary Community Training Room at our first Open House since moving. It’s a moment we’ve long been waiting for, and for good reason — we have bold dreams for this space. Expanded trainings will give us opportunities to:
Train people to PREVENT child abuse before it starts: Last year, SCAN reached hundreds of parents through our parenting classes and support groups. With a focus on building support networks and teaching nurturing skills, our Parent Education Program uses trainings to prepare volunteers to work with families as well as parent leaders to facilitate groups, grow trust among parents and build connections for kids and parents in their own communities.
Train people to STOP child sexual abuse: Since 2012, SCAN has trained more than 600 adults using the Stewards of Children program from Darkness to Light. Our goal is to educate and empower adults to understand their responsibility to protect children from sexual abuse, and then to recognize, react and respond to it in our community.
Train people to ADVOCATE for abused and neglected children: When an abused or neglected child enters the court system, SCAN’s Alexandria/Arlington CASA Program provides a trained volunteer to advocate on his or her behalf. This powerful program gives a voice to the child through a volunteer who is extensively trained to focus exclusively on the child’s wellbeing and best interests.
Trainings like these take space. They take time and supplies and staff support. They take incredible volunteers and people willing to attend. And they are worth every ounce of effort. We know that the people walking out of our trainings — from parent educators to “Stewards of Children” to CASA volunteers — gain the knowledge to prevent and stop abuse, or the power to speak up on behalf of children already suffering the effects of abuse and neglect.
This one room has given us the capacity to train more people, to protect more children, to impact an even wider circle of our community.
There is true power in educating and empowering more individuals in the prevention of child abuse and neglect. And it can start with just one room. And people like you.
Later this month, SCAN will kick off a new CASA volunteer training: many days (and nights) of classes, courtroom visits, panel interviews and more. As staff members work hard to prepare for the training, they often consider how other volunteers who have gone through the training have impacted families and given a voice to children.
Want a glimpse at the power they’ve seen in a well-trained CASA? Meet Linda Franz. Almost seven years ago, SHE was the new volunteer going through intense training. Since 2008, she has worked on cases with 12 different families. In one of her current cases, one sibling has severe disabilities and Linda has gone above and beyond in making sure her medical needs are being met while she attends school. Linda has spoken to multiple people involved in the case, ensuring that a seizure plan was put into place and medication was available at the school in the instance of a seizure.
Linda also recently wrote an excellent, insightful report detailing her multiple visits with the family, the many services and treatments the family has received, her many conversations with multiple teachers and other professionals, and provided the Judge a complete, compassionate picture of her CASA children and their family. This case needed someone who would be dedicated, who would provide immediate attention, and who could dedicate numerous hours and extra energy. Staff members say Linda was most certainly the perfect person for this family! In addition to regular visits with her CASA children — and communicating with all of the professionals involved in the case via phone calls, e-mail contact and face-to-face meetings — Linda has graciously been helping out in the SCAN office and even took on a second case when her first case slowed down.
And that’s all happening in recent months with just one family! There are 11 other families whose children have been blessed with Linda’s energy and attention, and countless more who will be served by this new class of volunteers.
Now it’s time to educate and empower them to advocate for children, too. We’re ready for more stories like Linda’s, and we’ll be sure to share those, too!
Learn more about SCAN’s Alexandria/Arlington CASA Program here.
The City of Alexandria celebrated 7 adoptive families with a total of 11 children, ages 1 to 17. Four of those families were able to be present for the celebration involving special crafts and story time for the children. Each family was highlighted through a heart-warming introduction specific to their family story, then they were presented to Judge Frogale who gave them a certificate recognizing the special day. A wonderful breakfast buffet was provided for all who attended, including extended families and friends, City officials, DCHS Social Workers, CASA staff/volunteers, and other volunteers. Each family was given a frame commemorating the day and a gift bag which included a book donated by SCAN for each child. These wonderful books were from SCAN’s resiliency book list and included an interactive list of questions and activities for each book.
Arlington County celebrated 12 adoptive families with a total of 17 children, ages 0 to 18 in a celebration at the Synetic Theater in Crystal City. The day began with Face Painting, making a family plate that described the children’s place in their respective families, a demonstration in the soft room and a performance of “The Red Balloon”. Each family took time to enjoy a delicious lunch with their children and catch up with their social workers who some families had worked with for more than 6 years. Each family was given a gift bag which included a book donated by SCAN for each child, another book entitled “Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew” and stationary. The families left with smiles on their faces, ready to start their new journeys.
As a professional who has been in the child welfare field for over 12 years, it was wonderful to see how well-matched and cohesive the families at Adoption Day were. The foster care system can be an extremely difficult transition for children and adoptive placement homes and it was amazing to see how well-trained and supported the adoptive families appeared. Adoption is a life changing process and the families were committed to their children and ready for the joy and challenges that come with parenting.
At SCAN, our vision is that every child deserves a safe, permanent home where they can thrive. We work for children to be happy, healthy and heard…Adoption Day was a beautiful reminder that there are families dedicated to just that!
– Diamond Vann, CASA Program Manager
Learn more about SCAN’s Alexandria/Arlington CASA Program here.