Letter from the Executive Director
Hispanic Heritage Month
Table of Contents
Inspiration for You
Educational Advocacy 101
Recommendations from the CASA Staff
Back to School | Tips for Foster Children
Its important to have educators on the side of the student when advocating for them. Communicate with their teachers appropriately to clue them into any challenges the youth is currently facing and what you're doing as an advocate to help them overcome that. This will aid teachers, counselors, and administrators in knowing how they can partner with you for the best outcome for the student.
Working together collaboratively is key to helping the child you serve have a positive and successful academic year!
letter from the executive director
Obviously you're involved, but this is really about letting THEM be involved when it comes to school time decisions. Suggest that their foster parents let them choose their back to school clothes, decide what they want for lunch, and what after school activities they'd like to explore.
Helping a foster child exercise an appropriate amount of independence helps drive growth and maturity. Also, with so many big decisions out of their hands being made for them, they'll appreciate having a say in their daily lives.
Back to school | tips for foster children
Going back to school is a time of both excitement and anxiety for all children. But for youth in foster care, it comes with so many more complexities, worries, and challenges. Here's some ways you can ease the foster child in your life back into the school routine for a successful academic year!
Build a Team
Darcy Cunningham Executive Director
Labor Day has come and gone, meaning summer is officially over and the 2018/2019 school year is underway. As a mother of two teenagers, I am always sad when summer comes to an end, but grateful for the structure and activities that the school year provides my daughters. Back to early mornings, homework, assignments that require 9:00 pm runs to Walmart, football games and weekends that go by much too quickly.
For most children, starting school for the first time, or returning to school after the summer is exciting: new backpacks, riding a big kids’ bus, meeting new teachers and friends. But for some children, the start of school unearths secrets about what is going on at home: abuse and neglect. We consistently see a spike in the number of cases referred to our office during the first 3 months of the school year, when mandated reporters (teachers and school staff) come into contact with children who show signs of abuse or neglect.
Last year, (FY18), Fairfax received 1,167 referrals to the CPS hotline during the summer period (Q1) . During the second quarter (October 1-December 31), that number jumped to 1,586 referrals, an increase of 36%. During the third quarter, it went down slightly, to 1,448 referrals (but still 24% higher than during the summer months). Fairfax CASA is appointed to every case that results in a child being adjudicated abused or neglected, by the Fairfax J&DR Court. The jump in the number of cases coming in at start of a school year becomes apparent when you look at the number of cases that actually went before Court: In August 2017, we received 7 cases from the Court. In November, we received 22, a 214% increase! This jump each November (as opposed to in September or October) makes sense, when one considers that as the school year starts and concerns of neglect or abuse surface and a calls are made to the CPS hotline, a screened in call may result in an investigation. The Department has some time to complete investigations (45-60 days). Therefore, if CPS received a call on September 25 that its screened in and investigated, it would have until November 9th to finish the investigation, which could result in petition being filed (and the CASA office being involved).
A great deal is expected of our teachers and those who work in our school systems. Thankfully, as mandated reporters, they are not expected to investigate and decide whether a child is actually being abused or neglected—they just need to report any suspected abuse and let CPS do its job. Between September and June, teachers arguably spend more time with our children, Monday through Friday, than any other adults. This consistent and close contact places them in a unique position to truly help a child who is experiencing abuse and neglect, and lead that child down the path of safety and healing, just by making the call to the CPS hotline. Teachers and school employees were the number one source of referrals to the Fairfax County CPS Hotline last year. Any one of the 1,669 calls that came in from a school employee may have saved a child’s life. As the school year begins, remember that our teachers aren’t just making a difference in the classroom: Their impact on the life of a child extends well beyond the school.
Wishing you all a wonderful fall season.
Search out what brings excitement to your child and help them find opportunities to match that passion. Are they in tune with the what's topping the music charts? Suggest they look into chorus, band, or a music club. Do they love being active? Chat with them about which sports team at school they could see themselves trying out for. Would they consider themselves a foodie? Foreign language clubs could be a good fit for an extracurricular activity.
Help show them they can build a family of like minded individuals around them at school.
Know How You Can Help
educational advocacy: 101
It is so important for you to know your CASA child's opinions about school. What they like about it, what they hate about it, their favorite subject, their least favorite, and so on. Evaluate their educational background as well, gathering information from family members, teachers, counselors, and case workers. Understanding their strengths, challenges, learning style, and academic performance will help you better assess exactly how you can help them succeed in school.
Know The School
When it comes to educational advocacy, its critical not just to build trust with the child you serve, but also to build trust with the family and educators too. Introduce yourself as a partner. Listen to school staff feedback. Rely on your relationships with these team members to gather information to make the appropriate recommendations if necessary, but approach it as a collaborative effort with everyone agreeing to put the child first.
Treat the child you serve uniquely and individually, consistently partner with the necessary school staff to develop a positive partnership and team dedicated to the child's best possible educational experience.
Educational - adj. - providing knowledge; relating to the process of education
Advocacy - noun - active support of an idea or cause etc.; especially the act of pleading or arguing for something
At the core of this facet of advocacy, is simply the goal of ensuring that the academic needs of a child are being met. When it comes to a child who is under the Court's protection, foster parents, teachers, counselors, administrators, social workers, and CASAs should have a collaborative approach and work as a team for the best educational outcomes for the child. Here are some ways in which you can advocate effectively.
Having a solid understanding of a school's policies, procedures, and culture is the first place to start. Engage with teachers and staff to learn these basics - it will also help you build a relationship with key players in the educational space. Be sure that you're aware of both school and teacher expectations for their students - you'll be important in helping the youth you serve understand these goals and how working towards them can result in a positive education experience. Make yourself aware of the resources and supports within the school community that could be an advantage to your CASA child. Through these actions, you'll show an investment in their school community, leading them to be more engaged too!
Know Your Child
Annette: The case I was assigned to was a domestic abuse case. The three children were witness to the abuse. The children were removed from the home and have been in foster care for three years. The foster placement was outside of Fairfax County in a small county so that the children could stay together. During this time, it was clear that it was not just emotional and psychological issues that needed to be addressed. The children needed to learn to speak English and they were behind in their schooling.
A: When did it become apparent to you as the CASA that these children needed a more aggressive educational intervention? Was is the same for each child?
For this issue's Volunteer Spotlight, the CASA staff knew exactly who to reach out to for this special education focused newsletter - Annette Anderson. She has served as a CASA for 3 years and in that time has scored major educational wins for the children on one of her cases. Here's her story....
A: The obstacles we faced before understanding the full needs of the children were (1) English is not their first language, so the first step is to make sure their deficits were not because of language; (2) They had little or no previous education. A year prior to their removal from the home, they were in another country and not educated in that country leaving them behind in their knowledge of basic science, math and history; and (3) The trauma from the domestic abuse they witnessed also interfered with their education. The children each received Intensive In-Home (IIH), counseling, mentoring, and/or Therapeutic Day Treatment (TDT) services to help them adjust and know appropriate school behavior. They also received tutoring outside of school.
The youngest, a boy, had started school in another district and had already been evaluated and given an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for developmental delays. His foster mother thought it was in his best interest to repeat kindergarten. He was physical (kicking, punching), unable to communicate (grunted) and was a runner (would leave the classroom and sometimes the school). His IEP has been crucial in his educational process.
Teachers adapted school work to meet the needs of the girls, but the foster mom felt that they needed additional services in school and wanted the girls evaluated. The oldest girl was in sixth grade when she started in foster care. According to the foster mom, there were educational, emotional and intellectual gaps that needed to be addressed. The child study committee considered trauma in her life, changes in home, time out of school, time in another country, language and culture. They decided she was progressing, even if it is not to the extent that everyone would like. They denied them because they can’t rule out these issues are her reasons for not succeeding to her potential in school. All the while, the testing showed her below average and her reading was six grade levels behind. We went to mediation to contest their decision. With the help of Darcy and my supervisor Shaina, the committee agreed to an IEP for the older girl. The younger sister was evaluated after the older one. The committee was set to deny, but the foster mom and I fought harder. After observing Darcy at the mediation of the older one, we were more confident about the information we were presenting. They eventually agreed to an IEP for the sister as well.
The foster mom has gone through this process for her own children and for several fosters and she said that some of them received IEPs for less than what was presented for these girls.
Interview by Ashleigh Conrad
Ashleigh: With our focus on back to school this month, I am excited for you to share your story of educational advocacy in one of your recent cases. Can you orient us as to the background of the case to start?
Annette with Judge Saxe at her swearing in ceremony
A: Finally, what tools and resources as a CASA did you find to be key for this educational advocacy?
A: One of the biggest wins for the children in this case was obtaining those crucial IEPs to ensure their academic needs were being met - during this process, what did you learn about the importance of an IEP for a child?
A :While I am a parent myself, I have never been through the IEP process. In talking to a friend knowledgeable about IEPs, she referred me to Wrights Law. She also told me a denial by committee is usually overturned if a central office review is requested by email or letter by the parent. Ninety percent are overturned at this level. The next step if denied again is to ask for an independent evaluation. Usually this requires thousands of dollars to the school, so often they will “give in” or at least reevaluate their decision.
I also talked to my supervisor, Shaina, to see if she had advice. She and I decided that Darcy, who is very knowledgeable about special education, should be looped in. Darcy and Shaina came to the mediation and they were key in getting the IEP for the older girl.
My advice is to get advice from others! Within the CASA organization, there is a great deal of legal, educational, and psychological expertise that can be pulled when needed. You are the one that needs to recognize your CASA child’s needs and put the best interest of your child first.
A: In the year prior to getting their IEPs, the girls were receiving As and Bs in their classes. The foster mom requested that their report cards state that the classes had a modified curriculum. The older one was getting a B for reading pre-K and first grade level books in middle school. The sister was receiving an A in remedial math, not at grade-level. The IEP would be a better evaluation tool to know the progress of the children. It also took into consideration and made accommodations for their emotional and psychological issues.
A: The foster mother has been the children’s best advocate! She has worked very hard with the children’s schools to create the best environment for the children and get the support they need. When the foster mom told me that she asked about a child study meeting a couple of months into the 2016-17 school year and had not heard back from anyone, I asked around and found that the school is required by law to respond within three days of a request or referral. I contacted the assistant principal and a meeting was set up ASAP. The foster mom had been through this process with her own children and other foster children. I am new to the whole process but am very good at finding information. Together we were able to ask the right questions and work toward an acceptable solution. All in the best interest of the foster children.
A: Not only were you a champion for the children in this case but from everything you've shared, the foster mother was a major player in securing what these children needed. From a CASA perspective, can you tell us about the importance of the partnership between a CASA and the foster parents when educating for a child's education?
Celebrate their Hispanic culture intentionally. Ask them to teach you something about their cultural traditions and why its important to them. Let them know you believe it is important for them to celebrate this aspect of their identity which makes them unique!
Do you, your company, or an organization you know of want to be more involved in the CASA family? Consider sponsoring our upcoming Light of Hope Celebration - an uplifting and powerful event honoring the positivity our CASA volunteers bring to our community.
Shine a light of hope for the children who need it the most. Celebrate the work of our dedicated CASAs. Help us bring powerful and radiating positivity to our community. Be a sponsor.
Click here for more details or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Seek out role models within the local Hispanic community your child already knows that can connect with them on a deep level through shared cultural experiences. Take the time to learn about their history and culture too. Showing your CASA child you care about their background helps build trust.
Seek out opportunities to connect to Hispanic culture. Living so close to DC is a benefit. Check out the Smithsonian Latino Center for exhibitions throughout the area. Mark your calendar for September 15th and 16th for Fiesta DC or check out the Manassas Latino Festival on the 23rd.
Its never too early to start training! Whether you want to PR this year, or just enjoy the fun filled morning with family, be sure to mark Saturday, April 27th down on your calendars for the 9th annual Fairfax Run for the Children! To celebrate Fairfax CASA's 30th Year Anniversary, this race day is going to be bigger and better than ever. We'll need runners, walkers, volunteers and donors to pull it all off so help us crowd source support by sharing the event! You won't want to miss the action.
hispanic heritage month
Save the Date
Starting September 15th through October 15th, Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated nationwide. Here at Fairfax CASA, we recognize the importance in honoring this diversity. Five years ago, 27% of the children we served were of Hispanic descent. Last year, that jumped to 38%! It is so important to help children maintain their sense of identity and the ties to the community to which they belong. After all, it truly does take a village to raise a child to be their best self. Here's some ways you can engage with your CASA child, or simply learn more about Hispanic history and culture!
Fairfax CASA has been selected by the Tower Club in Tysons Corner to be a beneficiary of their annual fall celebration. This will be a family friendly celebration from 5-8pm on September 20th with delicious BBQ, a bluegrass band, kids activities, backyard games, and more!
Tickets are $30 for adults, $15 for children 6-12, and children five get in free!
We can extend 10 complimentary tickets to the first 10 CASAs who would like to attend. Please RSVP to email@example.com to reserve your complimentary ticket or for more information.
BBQ & Blues
Did you dive into the podcast Serial? Could you not stop listening to Up and Vanished? This issue, we're recommending Finding Cleo, a podcast described by our Executive Director, Darcy, as "riveting."
It tells the story of a young Cree girl, Cleo, who was found dead at the side of the road in the U.S. while trying to hitchhike home after being apprehended by child welfare workers in Saskatchewan during the 70’s. Cleo’s siblings were able to reconnect as adults and began a search to find her and to learn the truth surrounding her life and death. The series is broken into 10 parts, all less than an hour. You can click here to listen to the podcast (and see pictures/more info that relates to every episode).
Or, you can listen on an Apple device by going to the Apple Podcasts and searching for “Finding Cleo”….make sure to start with episode 1 in Season 2 of the podcast!
"What I like the most about you is that you make me feel secure in myself and you always think of a better future than now."
inspiration for you
recommendations from the casa staff
One of our CASAs received these words in a letter from their CASA youth who they have been serving for over 3 years. The youth was recently going through a challenging time. All of the work our dedicated CASAs do truly does make a difference!