Like the rest of the world, we at the Athens-Oconee CASA program have been greatly affected by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. We have concerns for the children we serve, who are often already in positions of instability in foster care, and whose therapy services and visitation schedules have been altered or halted altogether. We are terrified for the several children we have on runaway status, who are now facing a new and uncharted threat to their health, and who are harder to locate with coronavirus restrictions. It has also been particularly hard on our CASA volunteers, who are anxious to see their children in person, and who are dealing with coronavirus complications within their own families. For the coordinators, we have been struggling with how to lift our volunteers’ spirits when they can’t see their kids, and when we can’t tell them how long this quarantine will last.
But even in the midst of these challenges, we have continued to be inspired by the dedication of our volunteers and the resiliency of the children and families we serve. Although visitation schedules have been shifted in quarantine, we have found that many of our children report more contact with their parents with the increased flexibility of a virtual setting. Some parents incarcerated in distant counties have been able to participate virtually in hearings that they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to attend. Without in-person visits, our CASA volunteers have continued supporting their children in any way they can - by dropping off sanitizer and other supplies, making masks for the children and their placements, maintaining virtual contact, and continuing to gather records.
We have also used this time of virtual connection to strengthen new and old ties in our community. When we heard that DFCS was not issued enough PPE to protect their workers in the field, our staff organized donations from Community (local tailor/store) and the CASA body. Our staff and volunteers have also been creating content such as book readings, outside activities, and music therapy sessions that can be shared to children (and adults...we all need someone to sing or read to us sometimes) in our community on social media.
The outbreak of the novel coronavirus has posed new challenges and setbacks to social welfare organizations all over the world, and Athens-Oconee CASA is no exception. However, our volunteers, our staff, and our community have adapted to this new normal in ways that have allowed our organization to thrive in less-than-ideal conditions. It is even possible that we have discovered new ways of promoting accessibility in our work for the future from creative solutions to problems caused by COVID-19. Since the outbreak of this virus, we have assigned new CASA’s to more than 30 children in our foster care system, and we have no intention of slowing down. However long this outbreak lasts, the Athens-Oconee CASA program will continue to do the hard and necessary work of caring for the children in our community.
A foster parent recently reached out to us to let us know how much having a CASA for their foster child meant. We love hearing how our volunteer impact the lives of children! Below are her words, edited only for confidentiality and clarity.
"I have been a foster parent for about 3 1/2 years. My first placement, I was never assigned a CASA, but at the time when you only know what you know, I did not know what I was missing. Then I had my second placement, and… [November of 2017], about 4 months into our case, we got a CASA... When she first contacted me and said she was assigned as the CASA for our foster daughter, I thought to myself that I have heard of CASAs before, but I also knew it was really special to get one! I called my private case worker to let her know and ask her what exactly to expect, as I had not had one before. And little did I know that having a CASA on our case was such a game changer for the best interest of children. As we all know, case workers have their plates full. But a CASA is a volunteer from the community who has been trained/mentored to look out for the best interest of the children. They are not paid by anyone, but a completely neutral person who wants what is best for the children in care, whether that be reunited with their rehabilitated parents, or recognizing a different path may be best. To do this, they invest in the children, they see the children, they hear the children and the say "you are important, what you think is important, and how you feel is important." They have relationships with all parties on the case and truly invest in the people, which includes the foster children as well as the biologically family. At one of our court hearings the judge said "if you did not have a CASA on this case, this case would look very different right now." Why? Because the CASA has the time, resources and support to investigate the details of the case, to provide as much information to DFCS and the Judge as possible so a holistic view of what is currently happening can be presented for the judge to rule accordingly or make changes or provide different or alternative services. And this is not to negate the role of a case worker or an attorney, it is to provide an extra tier of support and information when helping decide the outcome of peoples lives. When I think of the CASA, I think of her as a private investigator. And on top of it all, my little foster love, absolutely adores her CASA! She gets so excited when she knows she is going to get to see her and talk to her. And even at 4 years old, because there is the time to invest, my little foster love has sat and spilled her heart to her. Our CASA has also been able to advocate to help the children receive additional services that are needed. She is attached to every email sent out and knows more about our case then everyone, because it is her ONLY case. She has attended our foster daughter's visits with birth mom, she brought my little foster love a special little travel bag for her first flight on an airplane, she has gotten her a birthday present, she has see her tears, she has seen birth mom's tears.
It truly does take a village when it comes to Foster Care. There are all different people on a case, whether it is the foster parents, judge, case workers, attorneys, therapists, and teachers. Everyone has a specific and different role to play. My heart is that it would be possible for all cases to have a CASA. Adding CASAs to cases makes the team whole. One thing that I have learned while being a foster parent is we all do the best we can with what we have. This may apply to the birth parents, foster parents, the caseworkers, and even the judge. But one thing that can completely change a case is a CASA, as it allows us to DO our BEST because of what we HAVE. Thank you…[to our foster daughter's CASA].. for everything you do. You will forever be in our lives as someone who loved so well, and fought for what what best for those who could not fight for themselves. Love you!"
Our Athens Oconee CASA just uploaded a video on our Youtube channel! Take a look at why our CASA volunteers describe their work as uplifting, personal, and inspiring. As Catherine Tillman says in the video, it is truly "love in action."
Be sure to like our video to help us win the GA CASA video contest. Please subscribe to our channel to spread the word about CASA!
Our Over the Edge for Kids fundraiser was a success! On Saturday, August 24th, 2018, several courageous volunteers went over the edge of the SPARC building on West Broad Street to support children in the Athens-Clarke County and Oconee County community.
Along with watching our Edgers repel down the side of a 5-story tall building, attendees were able to enjoy face painting, a bouncy house, and live music. For lunch, there were delicious, fresh grilled hamburgers, chips, and tons of other goodies. Plus, local vendors Nedza's Waffles, Kona Ice Athens, and Your Pie were there too!
So far, the event has raised over $21,000 of our $35,000 for children in the community, and there is still time to donate. Click here to make your contribution.
Here is a short video with clips from Saturday's fun. We would like to thank each and every one of our supporters, volunteers, and Edgers. This event wouldn't have been possible without you all.