In 1997, the Adoption and Safe Families Act established three national goals for children in foster care: safety, permanency, and well-being, with safety being of paramount concern for all child welfare services.
The children CASA serves have been removed from their homes, at least temporarily, for reasons of safety. It is tragically the case that many children have been removed from one unsafe situation and placed in another situation that is unsafe or inappropriate. While it is the primary responsibility of the Department of Children and Family Services to ensure that the child is now living in a safe place, this task is of such importance that one of the first responsibilities of a CASA volunteer is to confirm that the child is safe.
Upon being appointed to a child by a Dependency Court judge, CASA volunteer advocates investigate any educational, physical and mental health challenges in the child’s environment by:
- Identifying whether there are urgent concerns in the home, and helping the child achieve safety through outside services;
- Meeting with the adults in the child’s life, including parents, teachers, lawyers and social workers to make sure that the child is not only living and participating in safe environments, but that the child is receiving appropriate medical and mental health care; and
- Ensuring that the child has the basics—clothes, school supplies and most importantly, the attention and care they need to thrive.
The Administration for Children and Families has found that, “Abuse and/or neglect can derail a child’s normal development, disrupt critical attachments, and impair social and emotional functioning.” However, the presence or absence of protective factors, such as an ongoing relationship with a committed adult working on behalf of the child, can greatly affect a child’s development, and can determine how long and how significant the impacts of that trauma might be. This enables children not only to better recover from previous traumas, but also to experience greater resiliency in their present circumstances.
For CASA Maureen Wharton, advocating on behalf of Shauna meant understanding that in order to avoid being sexually exploited, she needed to be moved far away from Los Angeles for her own safety, and Maureen and an attorney found an appropriate residential facility out of state for her.