CASAs, Court Appointed Special Advocates, are safe, stable, caring adults in the lives of some of our community’s most vulnerable children—those who have been abused or neglected. CASAs serve children from birth through age eighteen, and they work with legal and child welfare professionals, educators and service providers to ensure that judges have information to make well-informed decisions for each child. 

According to the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, one caring adult can make the difference between children who do well and those who struggle in the face of serious hardship.  CASAs advocate for these children in court, schools, child welfare and foster care systems, with the ultimate goal of facilitating a safe, nurturing, permanent home for every child. 

A CASA may be the only constant in a child’s life during a chaotic time, such as multiple foster placements, changing schools, or other disruption. The children CASAs serve have often experienced significant trauma, which increases the child’s risk of health, mental health and social problems throughout life.  

CASA of Lancaster County, in partnership with Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health and Let’s Talk, Lancaster, recently committed to becoming a trauma-informed organization. A trauma-informed organization is one that has been adjusted to consider the role that violence and trauma play in the lives of people seeking mental and physical health services. 

Ongoing Learning

CASAs are trained to consider issues relevant to the best interests of the child, which may be different from the interests of other parties or the child’s wishes. They stay with each case until it is closed and the child is in a safe, permanent home, and often walk alongside children through difficult situations.

To build the CASA’s skill set to manage difficult situations, introductory and ongoing training is required. On Aug.15, over 30 CASA volunteers attended a two-hour course provided by Let’s Talk, Lancaster to learn more about traumatic events, Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), and how events can disrupt a child’s physical and brain development. They also learned how these events might result in negative effects on a child’s behavior, academic performance and relationships, as well as factors that may affect a child’s ability to recover and heal. This education session builds skills on how adults and the broader community can help to foster resilience with these vulnerable children.

A CASA volunteer who attended the training, said, “The information on ACEs and their effects on physical and neurological development is not only relevant, but crucial for CASAs full advocacy of the children entrusted to them.”

The course also covers the phenomenon of vicarious trauma that helping professionals may experience when they are exposed to the challenging circumstances and traumatic experiences of the people they serve. Another CASA volunteer appreciated that the training “included a focus on the importance of caring for yourself when caring for others.” The training includes self-care tools and strategies for professionals.

What’s Next for CASA?

Becoming a trauma-informed organization is a fundamental paradigm shift. Another CASA volunteer who attended the training found that it changed her perspective, as she "began looking at things differently. Instead of asking why ‘Billy’ was late again, I look and say, what is going on in ‘Billy’s” life that he can't be on time?”

Going forward, CASA of Lancaster County will review their policies and procedures to identify how the organization, and subsequently the advocacy CASAs provide, can be more trauma-informed, using tools and technical assistance provided through the Trauma Informed Lancaster County initiative. Within the next year, the organization will discuss and work to implement relevant and attainable policies, procedures and/or changes to the physical environment to become more trauma-informed. 

Trauma Support Throughout the County

Trauma training and technical support is available at no cost to Lancaster County organizations that are committed to becoming a trauma-informed organization, as part of the Trauma Informed Lancaster County initiative. The training is provided by support from the Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health Behavioral Health Community Impact Fund, Let’s Talk, Lancaster, and the Counterdrug Joint Task Force.

Interested organizations sign a Memorandum of Understanding committing them to assessing their organizational policies, procedures and physical environment using lessons learned from the trauma training. The organizations must also identify opportunities for improvement and implement changes to become more trauma-informed. Free follow-up assistance and resources are provided to organizations to support their efforts to become trauma-informed. 

For more information, contact letstalk@livewelllancaster.org or 717-544-3820.

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