Emma Pazos is a bilingual CASA volunteer in SCAN’s Alexandria/Arlington CASA Program. Originally from Peru, Emma is an internal auditor at a firm in D.C. She is currently on her first assigned case as a volunteer, and thus far has proven to be a dedicated, intelligent and caring CASA. We decided to sit down with her and ask why she thinks it’s vital for the CASA program to have bilingual volunteers.
CASA: Thank you, Emma, for taking the time to give us your insight as a bilingual CASA.
Emma: I’m very happy to do it, I think it’s very important for the families we work with.
CASA: What do you believe is the most important factor in being a bilingual CASA?
Emma: Being a Hispanic person really helps break down the barrier in cultural connections, and in building rapport and trust. The family may think, ‘Here is a person that shares a similar sense of culture and may understand me better;’ even if the connection is as basic as speaking the same language. It makes a huge difference to a family who might have an entirely different exposure to and understanding of parenting and the law. This issue of abuse often occurs in families who may not have the same resources or education regarding disciplinary alternatives as you and I may have.
CASA: Are there any barriers you find unique to Spanish-speaking families?
Emma: Yes. I think foreign families have a strong fear of the legal system, law enforcement, and social services, which seems to defer a sense of trust in the system. Thus, they simply comply with what they are asked to do. They may hesitate to ask questions or shy away from learning the rights or opportunities afforded to them out of fear. Compounded by a possible legal status circumstance, families may view questions as stirring the pot and are scared it may jeopardize their opportunity at the American dream.
CASA: What have you learned as a bilingual CASA thus far?
Emma: That a family just wants to be understood. They come to this country wanting a better life for their family, but they also bring with them generational models of parenting that may have been acceptable in their internal family dynamic, but deemed unfit in this culture. It’s important that these families have a person or persons with whom they feel are not placing judgment or even perhaps a stereotyped viewpoint.
Emma’s advocacy for the children in her case has been a significant contributing factor to the family’s proactive involvement with social services. The family has risen to the occasion and immersed themselves in the services offered. The children’s parents often comment to Emma that her dedication and unwavering promotion of their well-being has inspired them to gain trust in the juvenile court and team members active on their case. The family has been able to form a safety net with other parents in parenting classes, as well as mental health therapists. The parents have demonstrated a consistent ability to remain cognizant of their actions, and often comment how the family is now united and supportive of one another.
Emma’s skills as a bilingual CASA is a potent remainder that persons of a different culture or ethnicity that immigrate into a new country–with differing systems, language and laws that govern that society–have the right to be provided efficient guidance, support and compassion as they navigate and learn about the social system and cultural norms.
Learn more about SCAN’s Alexandria/Arlington CASA Program here.
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?
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.
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.
Our Alexandria/Arlington CASA volunteers are intimately aware of the local foster care system, its challenges, and its impact. As they work closely with families here in our community, we also keep an eye on foster care and adoption trends around the country, which is why this recent post from National CASA CEO Michael Piraino caught our eye. We’ll certainly remain focused in our work on Mr. Piraino’s challenge — to “ensure all children in foster care achieve positive outcomes regardless of geography, economic circumstances, or such factors as race or ethnicity” — and we hope you will too.
For several years, CASA volunteers and staff around the country have been concerned about an ominous trend. Despite a general decline in the number of children in foster care, the family courts were requesting more volunteer advocates for more and more foster youth. Additionally, the children who had CASA and guardian ad litem advocates were coming from more challenging home situations. It is a sadly familiar pattern we have seen after previous recessions.
Last year we also noted that the decline in children in foster care was leveling off. The new numbers now confirm what our volunteers feared might happen. The number of children in foster care nationwide increased in 2013 for the first time in seven years. At the same time, we have received a report that child welfare spending actually declined nationwide between 2010 and 2012. That’s the first time spending has gone down in twenty years.
This drop in spending is not accounted for by the declining numbers from 2012, according to Child Trends’ research. Plus, now that we know the number of children in care is rising again, it looks like a perfect storm: less money for services, but more children, from more difficult circumstances, coming into care…[Read the full blog post on National CASA’s Blog here.]
Guest blogger Adam Robe, MSW, is the CEO of Foster Care Alumni of America (FCAA). In April, FCAA co-located its national offices with SCAN’s location in Alexandria.
Every year there are over 25,000 teenagers and young adults that “age-out” of the foster care system. This transition to life outside of foster care can be an exciting time for them, but can also be overwhelming, scary, and stressful. An alumnus of the foster care system may not have developed meaningful connections to help them on their journey, and not know who they can turn to for help and support. They may resist seeking out previous contacts they had within the foster care system because they fear that they may be required to go back into the “system” in order to receive help or support. Or they may not know what services are available to them, which may cause them to struggle to gain footing once they leave foster care.
Foster Care Alumni of America (FCAA) is a national membership organization that provides support and encouragement, personal and professional development training, mentoring and coaching, resource education, and encourages alumni to use their voices to make changes to the foster care system. We currently have 17 chapters in 17 different states across the country. Our chapters provide many opportunities for alumni (and our allies), to find support and opportunities to give back to their communities. During the month of May, many of our chapters hosted family reunions within their state. Our family reunions allow members to come together and to feel a part of our family; and to bring awareness to foster care issues during Foster Care month.
FCAA believes that it is important for public and private agencies to work together to ensure the well-being of children and families. In March, SCAN of Northern Virginia graciously agreed to share their office space with us and because we value the work that they do, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to be associated with their organization. Through our association, we look forward to future opportunities to enhance and support one another’s missions.
If you are interested in learning more about FCAA and how you can get involved, you can visit our website at www.fostercarealumni.org. If you work with teens and young adults who are getting ready to transition from foster care and could use additional support and connections, please send them our way. If you would like to support a local chapter or our national efforts, we’d love to talk with you.
We invited guest blogger Leana Katz to share her thoughts with us this month after celebrating Mother’s Day with her two young children. Leana is a volunteer with SCAN’s Alexandria/Arlington CASA Program, and while raising her own children has also given the precious gift of time and a voice to advocate for five others.
I became a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer the same year that I became a mom. In fact, March 2007–the month of my swearing-in ceremony–was also the month I got pregnant with my first child. As I’ve journeyed further into motherhood, I’ve gone from a freshly trained CASA with no experience to having successfully worked four cases through completion in the Arlington County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court system. Now on my fifth case, I’ve advocated for children who have been neglected, abandoned and abused.
I got my first case soon after I became pregnant; it involved an infant who was eventually adopted by her foster mother. As my own daughter grew inside me, I was moved by the foster mother’s dedication and love. And, moreover, her trust in a system that ultimately resulted in – but never guaranteed – adoption. When my daughter was born later that year, I was moved thinking back to the patience that foster mother must have had awaiting her daughter’s adoption. I had come to love the baby growing inside me before her birth and I thought about how as a foster mother, she had cared for and loved that baby even before she knew adoption would be a possibility and that she would become her daughter permanently.
As my daughter turned from a baby into a toddler, I was given a case with a child almost the exact same age as my daughter – not yet two-years-old. That child, too, was eventually adopted and once again I marveled at the foster parents’ ability to care for and love a child not knowing how long he would live with them, whether or not he would be returned to his biological parents, or someday be open for adoption.
I gave birth to my second daughter in September 2011 and last summer I began working on my fifth and current case. Once again, it involves a child just two months younger than my second daughter.
I was drawn to do CASA work because of some experiences in my own childhood, but I continue doing it because I believe each and every child is valuable and precious. Each and every child deserves to grow up in a loving, safe and predictable environment. My own childhood was often not ideal, and I have worked hard to provide my two daughters (now five and twenty-months) with that positive environment.
Not all children are so fortunate.
I am dedicated to helping these children because no child can choose whom they are born to, or in what kind of environment they grow up. However, as an adult and as a mother, I’m in a special position to understand just how important these things are for a child. I can choose to help these children and the adults that care for them. I can choose to take steps to help ensure that their future is brighter and their lives happier. I am so grateful for that choice, and for an organization like SCAN where I can put my beliefs into action.
SCAN’s CASA Volunteers are one group of adults working to support children in foster care.
“As a Nation, we have no task more important than ensuring our children grow up healthy and safe. It is a promise we owe to the hundreds of thousands of youth in foster care – boys and girls who too often go without the love, protection, and stability of a permanent family. This month, we recommit to giving them that critical support, and we recognize the foster parents and professionals who work every day to lift up the children in their care toward a bright, productive future.Thanks to those efforts, the number of young people in foster care is falling and fewer children are waiting for adoption. But even now, more than 400,000 kids are looking for permanency with caring parents.” – President Barack Obama’s Proclamation for National Foster Care Month
There were just over 5,000 children in foster care in Virginia as of April 2013 – an almost 40 percent reduction from April 2006. The story is similar in many Northern Virginia jurisdictions, with a 57 percent decrease in the number of kids in foster care in the City of Alexandria, a 44 percent decline in Arlington County, and a 32 percent decrease in Fairfax County. The numbers of children in foster care have been more stable in Prince William and Loudon Counties.
Why the Decline?
There are a variety of reasons that fewer children are now in foster care. Much of the change is likely to due to an increased child welfare focus on keeping as many children home as safely possible. Following the 2008 federal Fostering Connections Act and state changes, social workers are trying to keep children in their homes whenever possible, with extra supports for families to help keep children safe. There is also an increased focus on placing children with relatives (also known as kinship care) if their parents cannot care for them, instead of placing children with strangers in foster care. Changing demographics in our area – as the cost of living continues to increase – may also be responsible for the decline.
Still Work to Do
While fewer children in foster care is a positive step, there is still work to be done. First, we must ensure that children are receiving the services they need and that every child is in a safe home. We must also ensure that children in foster care return home as quickly and safely possible, after their parents have addressed the issues that brought them into care. Every child deserves a safe, permanent home and we must all work together to get there!
May is National Foster Care Month, and we’re happy to bring you the first post of a two-part blog series on foster care. Today’s post was written by Lindsay Ferrer, CASA Case Coordinator, and the second post will be written by Adam Robe, CEO of Foster Care Alumni of America. Be sure to subscribe to our blog (enter your email address in the upper left-hand corner of this page and click “Subscribe via email!” button) to receive an email update when new posts are published.
One of the best ways to prevent abuse and neglect is through home visiting programs for new parents. There are many different programs, with varying levels of research evidence. These in-home programs pair trained nurses or paraprofessionals with new parents to help them develop parenting skills, access community resources and ensure their children are safe and thriving. Virginia communities offer many different home visiting models.
One of the most effective programs for preventing child abuse and neglect is the Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP). NFP pairs low-income, first-time mothers with a trained public health registered nurse beginning in the second trimester of pregnancy and lasting through a child’s second birthday. Several high-quality, randomized control studies show that abuse and neglect can be cut in half among children whose mothers participate in NFP, compared to children whose mothers are left out. Children whose mothers participate are also less likely to later become involved in crime. Participating mothers have better prenatal health and are less likely to have closely spaced births than mothers left out. The first NFP program in Virginia was launched in 2012, thanks to federal Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program funding.
Another nationally established program, Healthy Families, can also improve outcomes for young children and their families. Healthy Families Virginia works throughout the state to promote positive parenting, improve child health, promote responsive parent-child interaction, and prevent child abuse and neglect among pregnant women and families of children under age 5. The most recent Virginia data show that over 90 percent of participating families received recommended prenatal care, were delivered at an appropriate birthweight, were connected to medical providers and were immunized. The FY 2011 statewide rate of confirmed cases of child abuse and neglect among program participants was only 0.7 percent, a very low rate for such a high risk population.
SafeCare is an example of a home visiting program that can help families who have already had an incidence of abuse and neglect or are deemed at a very high risk. A high-quality, randomized statewide study in Oklahoma found that adding SafeCare to the state’s existing child welfare in-home service program helped prevent repeat abuse. SafeCare reduced reports for neglect and abuse by about 26 percent compared to the same in-home services without SafeCare for parents of children ages 0-5. Few programs have had success with families with a history of abuse, making these results even more impressive. SafeCare does not yet operate in Virginia.
These are only a few of the many program models that can help Virginia families thrive and keep their children safe from abuse and neglect. Since 2006, the Virginia Home Visiting Consortium has been improving the quality, efficiency and effectiveness of early childhood home visiting services in the state.
Today’s guest blog post comes from SCAN’s Council of Young Professionals, an energetic group of 20- and 30-something-year-old volunteers getting ready to make a big impact in April for National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Thanks to Meghan Tuttleand Angela Walter for contributing to this special post!
The Alexandria/Arlington CASA Program provides trained volunteers appointed by the court to serve as a direct voice for children in the juvenile court system. Our hope is that the stuffed animals may provide some comfort to children who are involved in court proceedings as well as other difficult times throughout the process. Many times children served by the CASA Program have to wait for long periods of time in court for their individual proceedings to begin. The books will provide them with a good, constructive way to pass the time.
The most important thing about this drive is being able to provide a little comfort and entertainment to children in need. We all have old childhood books on our shelves that we can donate to this cause. Nemo, giant zebras, and cuddly teddy bears can bring a smile to a child’s face when they need it most. Let’s celebrate this special month of awareness by bringing a little joy into the hearts of CASA children.
It’s just one way CYP is giving back during the month of April, and you can be a part of this effort too! Drop off a new book or stuffed animal at local businesses like Whole Foods in Alexandria and Los Toltecos restaurants in the area. More details regarding additional drop-box locations will be announced soon (be sure to follow SCAN on Facebook for updates!) – in the meantime, feel free to bring your donations to SCAN.
Thank you for your support! We’ll build hope for children one book and one stuffed animal at a time.