Many times people think of Court Appointed Special Advocates as getting involved with children after something bad has happened. And that's true. A CASA Volunteer enters a child's life after trauma. But a CASA Volunteer also plays an important role in building resilience in children after that trauma. This is what sets a CASA Volunteer apart in their dedicated focus to a child's best interests. There are Seven Cs of Resilience that children (and grownups) can use to build up strength to be more resilient in the face of adverse situations:
You can help a child in your life deal with stressors in a healthy way by building up one or more of the "seven Cs." For example, you might build up a child's Competence by encouraging them to learn a new skill or complete a new challenge. A child's Confidence can be enhanced when you help them identify and take pride in their own personal abilities. For example, you could comment to a 9 year old that they are a great problem solver after they successfully navigated a conflict with a peer. You can help build a child's Connections by advocating for them to have regular, safe contact with their birth family. Not only does this limit anxiety related to separation, but it can also foster a sense of belonging.
You might build Character by review real and hypothetical social situations with a child and work together to figure out the best paths to address it. An example might be asking a teen what they might do if they found out a friend had been stealing and then talking it through together. Help a child feel as if they are a valuable member of their community and build a sense of Contribution. Maybe plan your next face to face meeting around working on a community service project, like cleaning up leaves in the neighborhood or taking a walk together to pick up litter.
Coping is a person's ability to handle stress appropriately. You can help demonstrated effective coping skills when you encounter circumstances in their presence. The age old example, "don't cry over spilled milk" is a good one. When you react poorly to stressful situations, your behavior becomes a part of that child's inner dialogue. Help foster Control by empowering children and teens to be involved in their cases. In our work, we tend to say that CASA is the "voice of the child." I disagree. This slogan infers that the child doesn't have a voice, when the reality is that we (the adults) have simply not listened to that voice. CASA Volunteers play an important role in making sure that a child's voice is heard.
As a CASA Volunteer, you play an important role in a child's recovery from trauma and can help guide them on their path to resilience. The skills that we instill in young people are skills that will stick with them forever. Make the investment in their future by taking the time to build and foster resilience. Make it a part of every visit, a part of every hearing, a part of every meeting and a part of every conversation.
Adapted from "The 7 Cs: The Essential Building Blocks of Resilience," from Fostering Resilience, http://www.fosteringresilience.com/7cs.php
Jenny Stotts currently serves as the Executive Director of the Athens CASA/GAL Program and the Regional Director of Southeast Ohio CASA. She is a licensed social worker and a trauma specialist.