By Chelsea Sanchez
As a child, I intuitively understood that the “negative” behaviors of others were often a response to feelings of fear and pain. I cannot recall anyone explicitly sharing this information with me, yet this basic understanding of human behavior informed how I decided to treat others — with kindness, compassion, and hope.
Furthermore, this basic understanding of human behavior became the lens through which I viewed the world. I was so in tune with how pain impacts people that I grew up to become a social worker. Because, what else was there to do but to learn how to guide people through pain to find hope and healing?
If I could use one word to describe my life over the last eight years that word would be “advocacy.”
— I have helped children and youth overcome barriers to their education, such as packing backpacks with snacks and canned goods to ensure these students have food to eat during weekend breaks from school.
— I have helped individuals displaced by war overcome barriers to their wellbeing, such as ensuring they have access to food, clothing, shelter, and other basic necessities.
— I have helped survivors of human trafficking overcome barriers to their mental health, such as providing transportation to and from therapy and counseling sessions.
And now, my advocacy efforts aim to support children who have experienced abuse and neglect.
To those of us working in child welfare, 47,913 is more than just a number. It represents the children in foster care throughout Texas.
Children deserving of a life without experiences of abuse and neglect.
Children deserving of a safe, nurturing, and permanent home.
Children deserving of a support system advocating for their best interests.
CASA of McLennan County aims to be part of that support system. Our mission is to provide a trained volunteer — a Court Appointed Special Advocate — for every child who has experienced abuse and neglect in the county, so that these children may ultimately thrive in safe, nurturing, and permanent homes.
A Court Appointed Special Advocate is an individual acting in the best interest of children who have experienced abuse and neglect.
Our best-interest advocacy efforts are guided by five principles:
- LEARN all we can about the children and their families.
- ENGAGE with children during regular visits.
- RECOMMEND what is in the best interests of the children we serve.
- COLLABORATE with others to ensure that necessary services are provided and are in the best interests of the children.
- REPORT what we have learned and observed to the court.
Effective advocacy also includes an understanding of human behavior and trauma and its effects.
Children who have experienced abuse and neglect are survivors of complex trauma, which refers to exposure to and long-term effects of multiple traumatic experiences.
Another word often used to describe trauma is “wound.” Survivors of complex trauma have complex wounds that cannot be healed with a band-aid. These wounds shape the way children view themselves, others, and the world. These wounds also shape the way children think and behave.
Some of the long-term effects of trauma include an inability or difficulty to develop healthy, supportive relationships; impairment of the brain and nervous system; difficulty identifying, expressing, and managing emotions; dissociation; being more likely to engage in high-risk behaviors; and difficulty with reasoning, problem-solving, or paying attention.
When children demonstrate the effects of trauma, their behavior is often categorized as “bad” or “negative.” However, these are normal reactions to abnormal experiences. Children often do not know how to talk about their traumatic experiences. (Honestly, most adults have difficulty with this, as well.) As a result, children communicate through their behavior.
Our role as CASA advocates, therefore, is to demonstrate compassionate understanding of the experiences and emotions behind the behavior. Our role is to see the person behind the behavior. Only then can our advocacy efforts truly be in the best interests of the children whom we serve.
Those 47,913 children in foster care throughout Texas deserve kindness, compassion, and hope.
Chelsea Sanchez, program director for CASA of McLennan County, is a first-generation high school and college graduate. She is a Baylor University graduate and Licensed Master Social Worker with over seven years of experience working with at-risk children, youth, refugees, and survivors of human trafficking. She has a diverse set of skills and experience including crisis intervention, case management, trauma-informed care, and training/management of volunteers, employees, and interns. She has provided various presentations and training sessions for conferences and coalitions.
The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at [email protected].