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.