A Closer Look at Normalcy and Mental Health

The month of June marks the beginning of summer – a time of sunshine and celebration. As children and youth celebrate the ending of the school year, Texas CASA encourages the network and those working with children to take a closer look at Normalcy and the Mental Health support needed for all children and youth in the child welfare system.

Under 26 TAC Section 748.701, “normalcy” is defined as the ability of a child in care to live as normal a life as possible, including engaging in childhood activities that are suitable for children of the same age, level of maturity and developmental level as determined by a reasonable and prudent parent standard. In the simplest terms, it’s the opportunity for these children to feel normal – to fit in with their peers and just be a kid.

The unfortunate reality is that there is nothing normal about foster care, and too often, children in the child welfare system are forced to grow up too fast. They are removed from their home due to abuse or neglect and placed in an unfamiliar environment, sometimes far away from everyone and everything they know. While their peers’ schedules are filled with things like sports games, summer camp, part-time jobs and weekend trips, these children and youth are doing their best to stay afloat in school while balancing caseworker and family visits, doctors’ appointments and court hearings.

Getting the chance to participate in everyday, age-appropriate activities with peers is critical to any child’s healthy social and emotional development. However, due to liability concerns, financial and transportation issues, and other barriers, kids in foster care have been historically denied access to activities that other children and youth tend to take for granted – causing a major detriment to their mental health.

Mental health was a significant discussion during the 88th Legislative Session. We are pleased to see that the legislature made historic investments in mental health services for adults and youth. The majority of the funds were allocated for adults with significant mental health needs, but the legislature did make minor investments in community mental health services, including a new child and family grant program. Additionally, while legislation did pass that would require teachers and school staff to be trained in mental health, it did not invest new funds into school-based mental health services for students – another reason why our work must continue.

CASA volunteers can work to address these gaps by talking with youth to identify any barriers to normalcy, as well as working with caregivers to understand the reasonable and prudent parenting standard and encouraging age-appropriate activities. To identify any potential barriers, volunteers can incorporate questions around normalcy into their monthly visits. Questions to consider include:

  • What is the child or youth experiencing?
  • Are their physical, emotional and educational needs being met?
  • Are they having their cultural and faith-based needs met?
  • What are the child’s interests?
  • Are there any clubs, programs or activities they are interested in participating in?

By having a better understanding of what’s important to the child or youth, you will be better able to advocate for their best interest and help them advocate for themselves as well.

Advocacy for children and youth takes many forms, and as strong child welfare advocates, it is essential to the mental health of the children and youth served to accept all parts of their identity, as well to be aware of which parts of their identity might be less accepted by others. As we enter into National Pride Month this June, Texas CASA asks you to remember our commitment to advocate for the best interest of all children in the foster care system. A positive, supported sense of identity is critical to a child or youth developing healthy self-esteem and confidence. We believe that by accepting and celebrating LGBTQ+ youth for who they are, and helping others to do the same, we can ensure these children live a normal life as possible while feeling safe and supported both during their time in foster care and beyond.

The children and youth in the child welfare system have had so many opportunities taken from them due to no fault of their own; but a dedicated, well-trained CASA volunteer has the opportunity to step in, speak up and make a real difference for them. We thank you all for your steadfast and earnest dedication to the children, youth and families we serve.

Thank you for all that you do,