By Vicki Spriggs
Chief Executive Officer of Texas CASA
We are officially into the fall season. I’ve always loved the fall – it reminds me of things like seeing the leaves change when I was growing up and excitement over the holidays approaching.
I’m also reminded of crisp new school clothes and freshly sharpened pencils. Hundreds of thousands of children in Texas are now settled in with their new teachers and classmates, holding high expectations for the school year. But under their fellow students’ noses, many children in foster care are balancing their schoolwork with the unimaginable challenges that come from the upheaval and trauma they are experiencing in their lives.
According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, “children who suffer from child traumatic stress are those who have been exposed to one or more traumas over the course of their lives and develop reactions that persist and affect their daily lives after the events have ended.” When a young person has extended exposure to things like family violence, it can overwhelm their ability to cope and affect their tolerance for stress of all kinds. This can result in “bad” behaviors like fighting, disrupting class, checking out and self-isolation. Long-term childhood stress also negatively impacts the ability to learn, focus and concentrate. Research has shown that these children also tend to have poor health outcomes and are more at risk for serious health conditions like cancer, stroke, mental illness and substance abuse disorder, PTSD and heart conditions.
The good news, however, is that intervention can happen for these children in many different ways – including through the advocacy of a well-trained, dedicated CASA volunteer. CASA volunteers receive at least 30 hours of training before they are sworn in and take a case, and they are also required to complete continuing education hours every year. A central part of volunteer training is education around the effects of trauma and an understanding of trauma-informed care. This understanding can lead to amazing advocacy work, for example, in the education arena: when our children “act out” in school or fall behind because of the trauma they’ve experienced, a CASA can help the teachers understand and respond, and they can do this without breaching confidentiality.
I am often overwhelmed with gratitude when I think of the direct service work that CASA volunteers do on a daily basis in our state. Their interventions and empathy in certain situations not only keep the child safe, but can make a difference for the child for the rest of their lives.
Until we have walked in someone else’s shoes, we cannot truly understand the emotional and physical trauma they have experienced. But when we know better, we do better. We have resources and courses available on our online Learning Center to help educate not only CASA volunteers, but others who find themselves working with children and families that have experienced trauma. After all, trauma has not only impacted children in care, but has often generationally impacted their families. Understanding and using a trauma-informed approach for everyone involved is the key to moving the dial on this problem and turning negative outcomes around.
Children and adults alike deserve the best possible chance at a happy, healthy life. Understanding the effects of trauma and using a trauma-informed approach when working with our children will more than just make a difference in a particular incident, but as we now understand, can literally save their lives. Join us in leading the way for a truly trauma-informed system, where all involved in the process understand that this approach is no longer a “nice-to-have,” but a necessity for creating a Texas where everyone has the opportunity to thrive.
If you are not currently involved with CASA, I ask you today to consider how you can play a part in making a difference in the lives of our most vulnerable children. Are you ready to take the first step towards becoming a CASA volunteer? Visit BecomeACASA.org to learn how you can speak up for a child who needs you. You can also support the work of Texas CASA by making a secure online gift that will benefit the local CASA volunteer advocacy programs across the state.