While the world has gone virtual, the role of CASA volunteers and administrators has become even more critical as child service providers are strained to their limits.
Although the title “CASA” goes to our volunteers, the job of finding permanency for a child is a team effort for staff and volunteers alike! The extraordinary CASA of Philadelphia team — supervisor Maelena Arthur and volunteer Joanna Craig — shared the story of the case they started – and closed – during the pandemic. Both discovered anything is possible when it comes to figuring out ways to help children and their families during a pandemic!
“Creativity is key, especially when working from your kitchen table, for supporting volunteers you cannot meet with in person.”
Maelena, a case supervisor for CASA Philadelphia, and Joanna, a member of CASA Philadelphia’s first virtual class, Joanna shared that the new rules of life during the pandemic gave her the ability to move forward with her goal of becoming a CASA volunteer. Training virtually afforded Joanna the time to pursue her volunteer goals while following safety guidelines to keep everyone in her family safe. The online CASA training program gave her the tools she needed to take on her first case within a few months of volunteering to be a CASA.
In early September 2020, Maelena and Joanna met virtually to review a case just assigned by the court. It involved an 8–year-old boy who had been in the child welfare system for two years in a treatment-level foster home. The child also had specific educational needs due to cognitive challenges.
Because of COVID-19 restrictions, Joanna could not visit the child in person. Yet, she discovered ways to develop a connection after figuring out that talking about “all things basketball” was the key to reaching the youngster!
Joanna understood the importance of making sure the child’s mother believed she had support too!
Joanna, therefore, developed a relationship with the boy’s mother, who had not cared for her child for years. The mom pursued treatment for substance abuse disorder as she worked toward her goal of caring for her son.
There was a lot of work to do to prepare for reunification and be fully ready for the challenges of caring for a child with special needs. Joanna, with ongoing assistance from Maelana, worked together to coordinate with the boy’s mother and service providers to ensure that all of his services would be transferred to his new home and school.
Joanna’s CASA training taught her to help the mother communicate with her service providers and teachers. Together, they set up services, acquired school supplies, and attended meetings to ensure that everything was in place to help the child continue to meet his developmental and educational goals.
At the hearing, the judge recognized CASA and commended Joanna and Maelena for their outstanding effort to achieve this extraordinary result.
It was no coincidence that all the pieces came together, and the judge ruled to close court supervision in February 2021 as all parties concurred that the child was thriving in his mother’s home and his new school.
Moments after the hearing concluded, the mother called Joanna to express her joy and relief now that she officially had her son back.
Joanna and Maelena’s story concludes with the shared sentiments that, pre-pandemic, they didn’t think it would be possible to feel so close to people you had never met in person! Both agree, “We are incredibly honored that we got to be a part of this family’s journey!”
Details of this story, including the child’s identifiable information, have been changed to protect the confidentiality of the child and family.