March 2018 Newsletter
Oprah Talks Treating Childhood Trauma
Volunteer Spotlight by Ann Burroughs Sun
Letter from the Executive Director
April 2018 Events
3,000 Miles for Sexual Abuse Survivors
Inspiration for You
Table of Contents
Formed Families Forward by Ann Burroughs Sun
Welcome Winter 2018 CASAs!
Run for the Children 2018
letter from the executive director
Saturday, April 28th | 8 am | Fairfax County Courthouse Complex
Click here to Run or Walk!
8th annual fairfax run for the children
Click here to Volunteer!
Darcy Cunningham Executive Director
Click here to Donate!
Dear Friends of Fairfax CASA,
Happy Spring! I hope you all had a warm and wonderful winter. It definitely was a much calmer, less snowy winter than in recent years! Last month I had the opportunity to travel to Boston (where I was able to see some real snow) for the National CASA Conference. The conference offered a chance to hear from other programs across the country and to listen to some incredible speakers who work very hard to better the lives of the children and families in the system. One of the most impactful speakers of the conference was a man named Adam Foss. Mr. Foss is a former prosecutor in the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office (SCDAO) in Boston, MA. He is a fierce advocate for criminal justice reform and the importance of the role of the prosecutor in ending Mass Incarceration. Mr. Foss has become one of the country’s leading voices for compassion in criminal justice, and articulated, so well, how for many of our youth, where they are born, who they are born to, and the color of their skin really determines so much of what will happen to them in life. He is a firm believer in using your “sword and shield” for good by helping our kids and youth through restorative justice and leveling the playing field. He was featured in a TED talk, which you can watch here.
Listening to Mr. Foss, the other program directors, speakers and many CASAs in attendance reaffirmed that we do a tremendous job here in Fairfax when it comes to supporting our children in the system, but that we can always do better; that we need to do better. We must strive to improve and never be comfortable with where we are. The children that we serve deserve our absolute best, which means we must always look to others for examples of what works well and to be willing to acknowledge when we haven’t succeeded and could have done better. I came back from Boston with some great ideas and I know that our exceptional volunteers and staff are always ready for whatever challenges I present to them.
April is child abuse prevention month and there are multiple events in the community to commemorate the fact that child abuse transcends every race, ethnicity, religion, income level and region of the County. In a perfect world, we would be able to prevent any child from every enduring abuse at the hands of a parent, caretaker or loved one and we would not need a CASA program. Unfortunately, that is not the world we live in and until that day comes, I am so grateful for the exceptional volunteers who make up the Fairfax CASA volunteer pool. It is an absolute honor and privilege to be a part of this organization and to be affiliated with these selfless members of our community who go above and beyond for the children they serve.
I hope to see all of you on April 28th, at our 8th Run for the Children run/walk, starting and finishing at the Courthouse complex! This year promises to be exceptional. Our superheroes will be back, as will our family friendly events and activities for our little runners. Please spread the word and join us on this important and fun day!
Thank you for your support and interest in Fairfax CASA.
Kelly Henderson, Executive Director
Formed Families Forward
Formed Families Forward was incorporated as a non-profit organization seven years ago and received its first grant from the U.S. Department of Education within a year. Located right here in Fairfax County, Formed Families Forward is “dedicated to supporting foster, kinship, and adoptive families of children and youth with disabilities and other special needs.” The organization recognizes and serves families who have children with disabilities, whether those disabilities have been formally identified and diagnosed, or not; whether services are already being provided for those children, or not. Formed Families Forward’s Executive Director, Kelly Henderson, makes it clear that the organization stands ready, willing, and able to meet their client families and children “wherever they are.”
Often, families in one of two situations approach Formed Families Forward, according to Dr. Henderson. In the first case, children with disabilities have just come into care with a foster, kinship, or adoptive family, and the family, just starting their journey, needs help navigating the social, emotional, intellectual, educational, medical, and other service systems impacting their children with disabilities. In the other common circumstance, children with disabilities have been in care with their foster, kinship, or adoptive families for some time, but then hit the adolescent years, when, for all children, all bets are off. Strategies and services that worked before may not work now, and families benefit from resources and support as they realign goals and expectations for their children’s futures.
Regardless of how families and children come in the door, Formed Families Forward works to provide support and services in three main ways. First, staff talk with them, find out where the families and their children are and where they want to go, and help identify and navigate appropriate services. Second, Formed Families Forward offers robust, regular training sessions on relevant topics at their own facilities and elsewhere in the Northern Virginia community. Third, trained, clinical professionals facilitate twice-monthly support group sessions (during the school year)—one for youth and one for parents and caregivers. Services to families—consultation, training, and support groups—are free.
In all instances, Formed Families Forward strives to be as responsive as possible. Dr. Henderson states that “anyone is welcome to call us at any time,” and pledges that every effort will be made to get back to those who make inquiries within 24 hours. Thanks, Formed Families Forward, for serving local foster, kinship, and adoptive families who have children with disabilities!
formed families forward | By Ann Burroughs sun
As CASAs we have clear, bright lines about our roles, about who we can talk to and what we can say, about advocating for our children without providing services to them in any way. That said, we have a lot to gain from knowing about local, state, and federal resources and direct service providers that may help us increase our own knowledge base or may offer information and tools suitable for passing along to our Department of Family Services Foster Care and Adoption Specialists. During March, as part of our recognition of Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month, I met with the staff of Formed Families Forward, a local resource new to me—despite my eight years as a volunteer!
Formed families forward | By Ann Burroughs sun
As we move into April, which we all know to be Child Abuse Prevention Month, we're also reminded that it is also Sexual Assault Prevention Month as well. Too frequently we see the overlap between child abuse and sexual trauma. However, there are brave survivors willing to push their own human limits to help bring awareness to these issues.
One such individual is Christian Griffith. Griffith will be running 3,000 miles across the U.S. for the next 5 months to raise awareness and funds for Help for Children, who disperses funds to local organizations that work on preventing and treating child abuse.
In our current social climate where so many women survivors are finding their voices, Griffith is also helping male survivors, find theirs. From his interview with PEOPLE Magazine, Griffith says he’s been inspired by the many female survivors who are helping to initiate a new “awakening” in our culture to hold perpetrators accountable with the recent #MeToo movement.
“The women are coming out in droves and they’re not afraid,” Griffith says. “I want to be that voice for men. I’m going to be that loud voice for the men.”
We're going to be following and sharing Griffith's journey and you can too by following his Facebook here!
For the full PEOPLE Magazine Human Interest Spotlight, follow this link.
3,000 Miles for sexual abuse survivors
Click here to watch the full CBS Interview
Treating childhood trauma
Oprah Winfrey reports on how trauma plays a role in childhood development and what new methods are being used to help kids who have experienced it.
If you strike up a conversation with CASA Lori Whetzel, you may find out that she’s been a volunteer for more than 20 years. That fact, alone, humbles many of us, even those us of who can see making it to the 10-year mark. Talk with her further, though, and being a long-time volunteer may not even top the list of things she’s done in service to her own children and to local children in need over her adult lifetime. Lori’s journey has involved many, many children, most of whom have had disabilities. Despite the challenges, which are numerous and significant, Lori says that working with these kids “… is the hardest job you’ll ever love.”
Lori entered the world of children with disabilities when her first child was born with Down Syndrome (DS) in 1979, and she spent the first year of her son’s life learning everything she could about disabilities, generally, and DS, in particular. Her focus turned outside her own family rather quickly, however, and really by accident—or perhaps incident! Around the time her son was a year old, Lori was asked to visit the home of a young couple who had just had a baby with DS to talk with them about parenting a child with that disability. The day after Lori spoke with the couple, they called and asked to talk with Lori again. The couple came to Lori’s home, expressed their appreciation for her help and advice, and then told Lori they didn’t feel capable of taking care of their child, of keeping her safe. They walked out of Lori’s home, leaving their five-day-old daughter behind. With the alternatives being turning the infant over to a local hospital or the local social services agency, Lori ended up caring for the baby—for the next 10 days. The young couple, it seems, just needed the time and space to take a breath and adjust their mindsets. Lori gave them this gift of time and space, and relates that the young couple returned for their child and went on to raise her “successfully.”
Lori herself went on to blend a family and a life that involved in many different ways children with disabilities:
The jarring experience of dealing with an abandoned baby led Lori to learn about the dearth of foster and adoptive families willing to open their homes and lives to children with disabilities; she became a foster parent as a result of this.
As part of the licensing and training process, she toured the then-Northern Virginia Training Center, where she made eye contact and an immediate emotional connection with a 12-year-old boy with DS. Lori brought him into her home, where he became family; he was with her until his death at age 40.
Lori’s second birth child was born with medical problems; at age 20, after intense involvement with the medical system, she finally was accurately diagnosed with Common Variable Immune Deficiency.
Over time Lori came into contact with others raising children with DS; they helped and supported one another, and the then-Parents of Children with Down Syndrome (now-Down Syndrome Group of Northern Virginia) was born to formalize these roles and to educate others in the community. Lori continues to support the organization.
For 30 years Lori provided a community service by opening her home and her heart to babies with DS whose parents were unsure of their desire or ability to raise them. Lori gave these parents the gift of time—30 days—to figure out their way forward. Many went on to raise their own children; others, with Lori’s help, went on to give their children what they believed would be better opportunities with adoptive families. For some of the little ones with concurrent heart issues who were moving into adoption, Lori provided a longer-term home, taking care of them until they were old enough for necessary surgeries and then seeing them on their way to their “forever families.”
Lori accepted a baby who had been diagnosed with Shaken Baby Syndrome into her home “for a few days,” only to find out that he had not only that Syndrome but also half a dozen other very significant disabilities. With this little guy, a few days turned into a lot longer; he’s now Lori’s 18-year-old son.
Finally, in the more than 20 years Lori has served as a CASA, she has devoted her time and energy to working more than 20 cases, serving a total of 43 children. Lori estimates that approximately 80% of her cases have involved at least one child with disabilities of one kind or another. She has become one of the “go to” CASAs—if not the “go to” CASA—when it comes to cases involving children with disabilities. We all benefit from her lifetime experience in this arena.
Lori identifies several challenges that she and others face as they live with, love, or in some capacity serve children with disabilities. As a CASA, in particular, Lori relates that it can be extremely difficult to advocate for children with disabilities when others on the team—Department of Family Services Foster Care and Adoption Specialists, guardians ad litem, service providers—aren’t familiar with the special needs of this population. As a parent, Lori believes that it’s easy to become absolutely overwhelmed without adequate support, especially at a time when public resources have dwindled and extended family are frequently dispersed.
The key for parents, Lori asserts, is getting hooked up with other parents in similar situations who can share practical “been there, done that” advice and offer empathy and emotional support. They key for CASAs, Lori suggests, is education and support; she says the schools most often provide a good place to start, and looking to national disabilities groups for information and other resources also can be fruitful. My advice? Talk to Lori! While she’d be among the first to tell you about the challenges, she’d also be among the first to tell you about the rewards. For CASAs, whether our cases involve children with disabilities or not, it’s ultimately about “… having the kids and families… be in a better place when it’s [the case] over.”
Lori: you are an inspiration to us all, during March as we recognize Developmental Disabilities Month and all year round!
volunteer spotlight | lori whetzel
by ann burroughs sun
Each class is unique and we, as a staff, are left with certain impressions after training, and we try to give each class a nickname. Without a doubt, the Winter Class of 2018 stumped us. We struggled but certain images did come to mind: Bill Belichick, a vacuum, The Thinker and Mr. Spock. Words, such as sponges, reflective, serious, thoughtful, deliberate, and contemplative were considered. In the end, we nicknamed this class the PONDERING class, as they truly mulled over and considered everything we presented to them. They were thoughtful in their questions. They returned to class each night with evaluative questions. They were of few words at times, but when they did speak, what they shared was well thought out and clearly purposeful. In this class, we had 11 very different people. Recent retirees, moms, grandparents. We had some travelers in this class, a tri-athlete, a special education teacher and a 30+ year teaching veteran. Several have lived overseas. Many come from military families. They have backgrounds in law enforcement, education, branches of the government, engineering, design, business, religion and one is working on a degree in Biopsychology. Within this class is a picture book author, a 1st generation college graduate, a 30 year veteran of state and federal law enforcement, a former brownie troop leader, several dog lovers, a furniture designer, a former New Yorker and a new volunteer who has lived in Hungary, Russia and Cuba, as well as a classmate who moved to the US from Turkey. The Winter 2018 class is robust, enthusiastic and we expect great things from them. Welcome to CASA!
We were so thrilled to host some of our magnificent CASAs on March 22 for a Chili Social! Those in attendance enjoyed a yummy sneak preview of the chilis from Hard Times Cafe, who will be sponsoring this year's Run for the Children again and serving up some delicious chili for our race attendees!
Everyone who attended was also lucky enough to meet Supervisor Emily's sweet baby, Rose! Her smiling face and first attempts at crawling certainly captured our attention and our hearts!
welcome winter 2018 casas!
Pictured Top Row, Left to Right: Teri Beck, Deb DiFalco, Chris Enos, Pinar Tumel Ertruan, and Blair Kersh
Pictured Bottom Row, Left to Right: Kristin Ayyar, Ashley McCotter, Elizabeth Parks, The Honorable Thomas Sotelo, Becky Kendall, and Bobbie Cunningham
Not Pictured: Carolyn Andrukonis
april 2018 events
April 6th | Wear Blue! Wear Blue today to support child abuse awareness
April 8th | Victim's Rights 5K and Candlelight Vigil, 5:30 to 7pm, 12099 Government Center Pkwy, Fairfax, VA
April 10th | Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Child Abuse Prevention Proclamation, 8 to 10am, Fairfax County Government Center, 12000 Government Center Pkwy, Fairfax, VA
April 13th | National Crime Victim Services Award Ceremony, 2 to 3:30pm, William G. McGowan Theater 700 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC 20408, USA
April 14th | Keeping Our Children Safe Panel Discussion on Child Abuse, South County Government Center, 8350 Richmond Hwy, Alexandria, VA
April 17th | Choosing Childcare with FCAPP, 7 to 8:30pm, Mclean Bible Church, 8925 Leesburg Pike, Vienna, VA
April 28th | 8th Annual Fairfax Run for the Children, 8am, Fairfax County Courthouse Complex, 4110 Chain Bridge Road, Fairfax VA
April 30th | SafeSpot Champions Fore! Children Golf Tournament and Gala, 10am to 8pm, Westwood Country Club, 800 Maple Ave E, Vienna, VA
The flower that blooms in adversity is the most rare and beautiful of all.