By Ben Wilkins, Dallas CASA Chief Program Officer
When we read reports about children sleeping in Child Protective Services offices, it’s heartbreaking. When it’s a child we’re assigned to serve sleeping in the CPS offices or in a hotel, the heartbreak becomes real and personal. I imagine all of us want to do whatever we can to make life better for these children. While Dallas CASA’s staff and volunteers are not permitted to supervise children during a stay at the CPS office, there are many ways we can help during this crisis.
See your CASA child as soon as possible. It’s tempting if the child you’re serving is temporarily in the CPS office to wait to visit until a more permanent placement is found, but visits during this time in the office are actually most important. Children need to know the adults in their lives know what’s happening to them, are thinking of them and are actively involved in creating a plan to get them into a placement. Their time in the CPS office feels frightening and uncertain, and they need reassurance they have not been forgotten. Visits beyond the normal monthly visits are especially encouraged.
Check with the child’s caseworker to find out what the child needs. Were school books included in the luggage? Did the child have to leave behind cherished personal possessions? Would the child benefit from some kind of activity book or game? What is the status of the child’s access to hygiene items? If the child has any special dietary needs, are those being met? Are office caregivers aware of food or other allergies?
Determine education advocacy needs. What is happening with the child’s school enrollment? Can the child be transported to the home school or allowed to participate remotely? Are the child’s school records complete? Was the child getting help with school work that is now no longer available? Does the child have summer educational needs?
Determine the child’s healthcare needs. Were there any upcoming health care appointments that now need to be rescheduled? Are there any new appointments that should be scheduled? What is the status of any prescription medications? Did the child have a retainer or other dental apparatus? Has counseling been interrupted?
Inquire about legal advocacy needs. Were there pending juvenile or other criminal hearings? Or pending matters related to a name change or other legal issues? Did the child have any community service or other obligations?
Determine social and emotional needs. Does the child have sibling visits either in person or by video call? Has the child been taken away from group activities or other social supports? Is it possible to maintain previous connections?
Focus on creating placement and permanency options. Can there be a Family Group Conference (FGC) or Circle of Support (COS)? If so, can the advocate help contact potential attendees and help them work out scheduling, transportation or other access issues? Can the advocate mine the CASA, CPS or court records to identify potential kinship placements? Can the advocate push for reconsidering parents or kin who were previously ruled out or who were previously unavailable to provide care?
Provide access to resources. Does the child have needs other local agencies could address? Working with the Dallas CASA volunteer’s supervisor, the advocate may find resources that could help support the child and/or a potential placement.