By Vicki Spriggs
Chief Executive Officer of Texas CASA
Think back with me to when you were a child. Was there anything better than summer break?
School was out – no more sitting at a desk for hours on end, daydreaming about what was going on outside your classroom windows or grumbling about homework. You could stay up late, go to the movies or the pool, hang out with friends, visit your family, go to summer camp. You were free!
Personally, I spent most of my summer days curled up on the couch with a book. Without teachers telling me what I had to read, or that I’d have to take a test on it afterward, I could read whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. Book after book…and family vacations. My parents, my sisters and I would take road trips to Cape Cod and Nantucket – sleep out on the beach without a care in the world, watch the sunset and wake up to the sunrise the next morning.
Summer, to put it in child welfare terms, is about normalcy: taking a break, spending time with family and friends, focusing on connections, having fun.
Now, as we know, there is nothing normal about foster care. Living circumstances, schools, coaches, friends and foster parents change, many times without any clear rhyme or reason. And as advocates first, we must work to keep children safe and make sure they have access to the resources and support they need. But we also know that, for young people, summer is meant to be a break. Children in foster care should be no exception.
So CASA volunteers, in the spirit of summer, I encourage you to take a little break of your own. Just for a moment, rather than stewing on the obstacles and hardships the child you serve is facing, focus on the positives. You know them, so what makes their eyes light up? What, and who, do they love?
Foster care tends to make children feel singled out and “othered,” so what are you doing to help their lives feel more normal, and could you do more? Keeping children connected socially with things like sleepovers at friends’ houses, going to summer camp, participating in sports and more can make a monumental difference. These sorts of activities used to have to go through DFPS – but thanks to the “normalcy bill” passed during the 84th Legislative Session, the child’s caregiver can now approve or disapprove a child’s participation based on their own assessment and availability, using a reasonable and prudent parent standard, without prior approval of the Department.
As advocates, we spend plenty of time talking about children’s needs – but what about what they want? Children who grow up at home, with a loving, stable family, are surrounded by people who know what they like in terms of clothes, food and things to do for fun. Children in care, however, are thrown into another environment, often with people who mean well, but don’t fully get the chance to really know them. You do have that chance, so take time to learn what brings them joy. What are some little things you can do to brighten their summer?
The hardships of foster care are an ever-present reality for the children we serve. They need and deserve the chance to create new, happy memories. Why not start now?
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.