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Dallas CASA Volunteers Stay in Touch Virtually

March 27, 2020

Prioritizing the health and safety of children, volunteers and staff, Dallas CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) recently suspended face-to-face child visits, but Dallas CASA’s committed volunteers are staying in close contact with the children they serve in a variety of ways.

Longtime volunteer Larry Dolan said the key to advocacy right now is being available for encouragement and problem-solving for children and caregivers.

“I was in sales for more than 25 years, and the mantra was always to know your customer and get in front of them face-to-face,” Larry said. “I find the current scenario not optimal but also not unworkable. I know my customers – families, children, caregivers. The value of a CASA is having this relationship where others either don’t have the time or are always caught going in different directions. It’s what we do.”

So volunteers have moved in-person visits to phone calls, virtual visits, regular text messages and even snail mail to maintain consistency for children already going through a difficult time, and they’ve increased the frequency of their contacts. This week, Larry was able to teleconference in as three children he serves were adopted, celebrating joyfully – and virtually – alongside them.

One volunteer recently printed out homeschool worksheets and helped the grandmother of the children she serves overcome some technology challenges. Volunteer Sheree Demarais was able to connect a family with a resource for diapers and wipes when they brought a new baby home from the hospital during the pandemic and were afraid to go back out. Another volunteer serves a college student who aged out of foster care. With nowhere to go when his college dorm closed, his college stepped in to allow him to stay on campus. His volunteer brought him gift cards for food and other treats as he shifts to online coursework.

Larry touches base by phone regularly with his 18-year-old CASA youth, who he has worked with for three years and knows quite well.

“Obviously, I try to know every kid and family or placement I serve,” Larry said. “That, in itself, makes all the current uncertainty easier to cope with.”

For Kathleen LaValle, Dallas CASA’s president and CEO, hearing reports of these critical contacts between volunteers and children has been both affirming and reassuring.

“For children in foster care, maintaining contact with an important ally like their CASA volunteer is critical during this time of uncertainty,” she said. “We want children to know we’re here, we’re not going anywhere, and we’re still going to show up however we can.”

Dallas CASA program staff gave volunteers lots of suggestions for making visits with children of different ages effective:

Infant to age 2

  • Ask the caregiver to show you the child so you can observe him or her.
  • Ask the caregiver about key developmental milestones (Great checklist from the March of Dimes here.

Age three to five

  • Read a book to your child via video.
  • If the weather is good, ask them to demonstrate a new or favorite skill (such as running outside or a cartwheel).
  • Sing a song with the child.
  • Ask them to draw you a picture and show it to you via video.

Elementary age

  • Ask them if they would like to give you a virtual tour of their room.
  • Send an old-fashioned card or letter. Kids love getting mail!
  • Ask them if they’d like to share a “virtual” meal together.
  • Play Tic Tac Toe or another simple game together via video.
  • Ask them to show you their hand-washing routine.
  • Ask them to tell you about remote learning. What do they like about it?

Middle school age

  • Ask them if they’re able to stay in touch with friends. How? And how are their friends doing?
  • Ask about remote learning. What do they like about it? What do they dislike?
  • Ask them if they’re able to get outside.
  • Take a virtual walk together.

High school age

  • Ask how remote learning is going. Do they need any help? What does remote learning look like for the child? Can they access help if needed?
  • Ask them to show you their setup for remote learning. Do they have a designated spot for learning?
  • Are they able to stay in contact with their friends? And how are their friends handling this?

And how can Dallas CASA volunteers support caregivers of children living in the protective care of the state? They can continue to do many of the things they’ve already been doing:

  • Connect caregivers with local resources for food or diapers.
  • Touch base with families more frequently to serve as a critical form of support.
  • Encourage families working through the adjustment to remote learning and provide whatever support you can during what could be a rocky adjustment.

A few things to keep in mind:

  • For children who’ve experienced trauma, a disruption in their routine can be further traumatizing and may lead to new or different behavioral issues.
  • Many regular dental and non-urgent medical visits have been suspended.
  • This could be a good time to check in with therapists regarding services for the child. If a child meets with a therapist regularly, can these visits happen virtually or via phone?
  • Teachers may be exceptionally busy during this time and not available.
  • Tools for doing video visits include FaceTime (for Apple users), Skype, Zoom and Google Hangouts.

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