Thanks to a generous grant from Aetna, PA CASA has created specialized training for CASA volunteers that provides a comprehensive approach to health well-being for children in the child welfare system.
Beginning April 1st of 2021, PA CASA will be offering a training program through an online Learning Management System that will be available for CASA volunteers across the Commonwealth that will affect positive health outcomes for the children they are assigned to.
Jennifer DeBalko, Executive Director of PA CASA, says the training was created because children in the child welfare system often have complex health needs. Multiple moves and changes in service providers make those needs difficult to meet even after they’ve entered the child welfare system.
“I’ve seen firsthand the difference CASA volunteers can make when they intentionally advocate for a child’s health. We are thrilled to make this essential training curriculum available to our local programs so that CASA volunteers and staff have the tools they need to make a difference in a child’s health well-being.”
Substantial research shows that foster children’s health is significantly less than that of the general population, as they are frequently enmeshed in multiple systems of care. PA CASA approached Aetna in March of 2019 with a request for funding to create a system-wide Healthcare Advocacy program geared explicitly to abused and neglected children’s complex health needs.
The course material was developed in conjunction with child welfare medical professionals and aligned with National CASA standards. According to Dr. Judith Silver, Clinical Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychology in Pediatrics at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, who assisted with the curriculum’s development, Healthcare Advocacy is a must-learn skill for CASA staff and volunteers.
“Over my long career working in pediatric centers, I have seen the tragic impact of unwitting medical neglect of children in foster care. CASA programs and their volunteers are in a key position to thwart these conditions and improve children’s lives.”
This new project allows us to provide high-quality training for affiliate organizations across the state, enhancing advocacy at both the staff and volunteer levels. Based on the knowledge CASA volunteers gain through sound training and on-going communication with everyone involved in the child’s life, our newly developed Healthcare Advocacy Training provides strategies CASA volunteers can use to intentionally advocate for children’s health care needs by gathering critical information that impacts the decisions of the court.
This is the first course of its kind, designed to gather collaborative data about the impact of the training on volunteer advocacy, court decisions, and health well-being. By utilizing multiple features of the existing case management software, volunteers and staff will work together to build an advocacy plan, record progress, and track court outcomes. Through a health well-being assessment, CASA programs will understand the impact of the child’s health well-being. Data collected will be used to improve the advocacy approach and build additional trainings in the future.
The curriculum covers a wide range of basics using a Learning Management System that is easy to navigate. It incorporates an innovative approach with video stories, a downloadable notes page, access to online resources/pdfs, and the opportunity to join the CASA Health Advocacy Community. It also provides PA CASA the opportunity to gather data to determine if the training impacts volunteer performance and assess the impact of improved healthcare advocacy on child well-being outcomes.
“Studies have shown that the health needs for kids in the dependency system are tremendous,” says DeBalko. “This new curriculum will well serve the children who are the most vulnerable and have the least access to services. We are looking forward to developing additional training partnerships to be a powerful collective voice for children throughout Pennsylvania.”