Giving Children a Voice
By Vicki Spriggs
Chief Executive Officer of Texas CASA
A couple of weeks ago I had hip replacement surgery. As much as I knew it needed to happen, I still couldn’t stop my mind from racing around all of the “what-ifs.”
This was my first-ever surgery, and needless to say, I was scared. I kept worrying about the surgery itself, how long the recovery would take, how things would go in the office while I was out… Rational worries, irrational worries, and worries everywhere in-between plagued me all the way up to the day of my operation.
What helped me the most in countering my anxieties was thinking of all the amazing people in my life and remembering that I wasn’t going through any of this alone! I had friends, family and other loved ones who were excited for me to get back to my full, healthy self. I had my CASA work family, holding the fort at the office and ensuring I could take the time I need to recover. And I had doctors and nurses that answered all of my questions thoroughly and made sure I felt safe and comfortable (or at least as comfortable as possible). Thanks to that support system, I was able to power through, and now here I am, on the road to recovery and eager to get back to work.
One of the benefits of this whole experience is that it’s given me a new perspective on the children we serve. The fact is, they are moving through situations much more traumatic than my surgery, and too often, they’re doing it alone. They’re separated from their family, and everyone and everything they know, love and trust. And at such a young age – when they’re still developing physically, mentally and emotionally – they just don’t have the wherewithal to fully process or understand what’s happening to them.
As nervous as I was for my operation, at least I knew my doctor, the day it would take place, the basics of what to expect and how long recuperation would take. I also had the final decision-making authority, so I could have postponed, or even called it all off if I wanted. In other words, I had access to the information I needed, and I had a choice. These kids don’t have that. Without an advocate looking out for them, they can find themselves moving through the system and never knowing the who, what, when, where and why of their situations – powerless and lost in the events of their own lives.
By helping a child understand what’s happening in their case, and perhaps more importantly, why this is happening, CASA volunteers can make a world of difference. In a trauma-informed, age-appropriate way, they can make sure the child knows the reason they were removed from home, the basics of their case, and the roles of all the new people in their life. They can talk them through what to expect when going to court, therapy, doctors’ appointments and family visitations, and help combat the anxiety and “what-ifs” that we all know are running through their heads. If a child has to move to a new foster home, their volunteer can have preemptive and compassionate conversations with them, ensuring they understand where they’re going, when and why – and most critically, that it’s not their fault.
There is still a fine line between keeping kids informed and making sure the information is age appropriate and won’t cause more harm. It is also equally true that they are so much stronger, brighter and more perceptive than we sometimes give them credit for. Recognizing this, and proactively communicating with them and answering their questions, will not only help them begin to trust again – it’ll give them back a sense of control, and empower them to voice their needs and wishes more meaningfully.
I had a choice when it came to making important decisions about my health. These children do not always get the same kind of choice when they enter the system. They deserve an advocate who is invested in their safety and happiness, will help them understand their circumstances, and will make sure they have a meaningful voice in decisions that impact their future. Just like any other child, when they have the support and resources they need, they are capable of amazing things.
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.