When a CASA volunteer accepts assignment to a child’s case, the first step is to meet and talk to the abused child. But for a child from a violent or neglectful home, meeting a stranger can be frightening.

Dallas CASA’s Program Director Ben Wilkins has some tips for making the first time you talk to an abused child a positive interaction.

To a child in foster care, you are another stranger with an identification badge, a situation that has recently led to additional trauma for the child when he or she was removed from familiar people and surroundings. Typically, Dallas CASA volunteers are assigned within two weeks of the child’s removal from home so the pain and fear are new. The child may not yet have decided to trust this temporary home.

A few tips to talk to an abused child and make your first meeting a jumping-off point for a good relationship:

  1. Prepare for a range of reactions. Honoring your CASA child’s history means accepting any response from the child when you meet. The child could be overly friendly, excessively shy, distrusting or scared. Don’t take negative responses personally, but think about what they teach you about how the child feels at that moment.
  2. Keep the initial visit short. Hold off on longer visits and outings until the child knows you better. We usually recommend keeping the first visit with the child to 30 minutes, setting aside extra time for private discussion with the caregiver.
  3. Consider bringing a game to play. A simple card game like Uno or Skip-Bo, or an activity like a Lego set, can start a conversation flowing.
  4. Be careful with one-on-one talk. Try to get a private moment with the child, but use caution. Being alone with a relative stranger could be frightening for the child, but you want the child to have an opportunity to share anything with you they might not feel comfortable saying in front of others. The recent court case ruling foster care in Texas unconstitutional shows the importance of kids being able to tell someone they trust what’s happening.
  5. Come prepared with open-ended questions. Instead of “Do you like to read?” try “What are your favorite books or games?” Instead of “Do you like school?” try “What do you like about school?”
  6. Leave with a plan. Before you leave the first visit, explain how often and in what circumstances the child will see you. Avoid making promises that you might not be able to keep, and follow through on everything you’ve encouraged the child to expect.