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How Court Appointed Special Advocates Support Trauma-Impacted Youth

Written By Allison Kahn-Pauli, Chief of Staff for CASA for Children of DC

Trauma. A word that is heavy with meaning. Acute trauma. Complex trauma. Historical trauma. What do you think when you hear the word trauma? Perhaps a specific event in your life comes to mind, or one experienced by another. An injury, a natural disaster, an experience that has left lasting marks.

When CASA for Children of DC hears trauma, we think about the trauma of youth who have experienced childhood abuse and neglect. We think about the trauma of foster youth who have been removed from their homes, separated from their family, their friends, their community. We think about the cycle of trauma that may have led to an abusive or neglectful home. And we think about the impact of childhood trauma: affecting brain development, predisposing youth to dysregulated emotion, behavior, memory, and processing, impacting youths’ success in education, building life skills, and overall well-being.

But we think too, about resilience – the ability to overcome trauma. Positive, consistent, adult relationships have been identified as a significant protective factor in mitigating the impact of trauma and in helping to build resilience. We think about what we can do, as an organization, and a community, to build resilience in our youth.

CASA for Children of DC provides positive and consistent adult figures to court-involved youth in the District of Columbia through Court Appointed Special Advocates – CASA volunteers. CASA volunteers are recruited from the community and specially-trained to provide support to trauma-impacted youth. CASA volunteers form a mentor-like relationship with children and youth, engaging them in positive activities, and assisting them with goal attainment. Based on the relationship developed, CASA volunteers represent their youth’s best interests in Court.

CASA DC Photo 3

CASA volunteers are trained to support youth across four domains designed to mitigate the impact of trauma: Permanency, Education, Well-Being, and Life Skills. Throughout this work, CASA volunteers help to build the “7 C’s of Resilience” in youth:

  • Competence – Gaining mastery over topics, learning skills, improving in school
  • Confidence – Building self-confidence
  • Connection – Helping connect to community, extracurriculars, peers, family members
  • Character – Knowing one’s self, developing interests & hobbies, being a role model
  • Contribution – Connecting to community service, giving back
  • Coping – Identifying & developing alternative coping mechanisms like yoga, writing, sports; advocating for therapy
  • Control – Helping youth to self-advocate, goal-setting

CASA DC believes that together, we can help mitigate the impact of trauma and help court-involved youth to thrive.

CASA DC Photo 2

Take, for example, Sahara*, removed from her mother at 7 years old due to substance use and neglect, who had been left to parent her younger siblings time and time again. Who told others that she was made to sleep on the floor because she was “bad.” Behind in school and struggling to read, Sahara had a strong desire to learn. So Sahara was connected with a CASA volunteer who helped her to write stories, encouraging her to build competency and confidence in her reading and writing. Sahara became an honor roll student. With her CASA volunteer, Sahara discovered recreational activities and a passion for art, building character. Her CASA consistently advocated for therapy, ensuring that Sahara had appropriate supports for coping. And as Sahara’s mother demonstrated consistent sobriety and improved parenting, the CASA supported that connection, working with the whole family towards successful reunification.

Consider Myra*, placed in foster care at 16 following an incident of physical abuse. When matched with her CASA volunteer, Myra was struggling with mental health and emotional dysregulation, in addition to being a teenage mother. Though Myra did not engage well with her interdisciplinary team, she and her CASA formed a strong connection, providing Myra with a consistent supportive adult figure. Myra and her CASA worked together for over three years until she emancipated from care on her 21st birthday. During that time, Myra’s CASA volunteer helped her to gain control over unstable placement arrangements and to identify employment so that Myra aged out with a stable home for parenting youth and a job.

Like Sahara and Myra, there are over 800 court-involved youth in the District of Columbia, who have been impacted by childhood trauma. But like Sahara and Myra, they too can find connection and resiliency in a Court Appointed Special Advocate. If you want to change a child’s story or wish to learn more about the work of CASA for Children of DC, please contact our Executive Director, Arika Orozco, at or visit our website.

CASA DC Photo 1

Continuing to Build Our Community Virtually

Written by Carole Trevey and Carolyn Jeppsen of BroadFutures

BroadFutures is revolutionizing the way young people with learning and related disabilities prepare for the workforce through an innovative training, mentoring and paid internship program. Like most organizations, COVID-19 threw us a hefty number of curveballs for our summer internship program. Our program is founded on community, peer to peer learning and interaction, both in our training and at the internships.

No longer able to meet in person or to engage our participants in internships, we could have easily foregone our summer program completely. However, in so doing, it would have been the young people we serve who would have lost out. Not being able to help them realize their potential and abilities would have been contrary to the very heart of our mission. We therefore made the important decision to move forward with programming – only this time, it would be completely in the virtual setting and focused on training and mentoring. In early June, we introduced our first-ever virtual Summer Strengths Program with participants from all over the country. The program consisted of a five-week intensive and interactive program focused on college and career readiness. From 9:30am to 2:30pm, Monday through Friday, each day was filled with interactive workshops, thoughtful discussions, and curriculum-reinforcing games. Our curriculum is focused on ensuring that our participants learn their strengths and where they need support, as well as strategies for success. We cover a wide variety of topics, including developing professional communication and self-advocacy skills, mastering effective time management and executive functioning skills, building and refining resumes and LinkedIn profiles, practicing how to ace a job interview, understanding financial literacy, and so much more. Our online curriculum mirrored our in-person curriculum and stayed true to our mission by integrating the arts, as well as mindfulness and yoga.

Our curriculum stressed the importance of accommodating alternative learners and ensuring that our program was fun, engaging, and relevant to our participants’ future success. With the use of virtual breakout rooms, direct instruction limited to short periods of time, the incorporation of drama, yoga/mindfulness sessions, and games, the participants successfully remained engaged throughout the entire day, making the program an overwhelming success. Our biggest success, however, was the cohort itself. They created an incredible community of diverse learners. They all grew together with compassion, empathy, patience and earnest appreciation of each other – in just five short weeks.

On the first day of the program, one by one the participants clicked the program-assigned Zoom link, immediately throwing them into a virtual space they had never experienced before as a community. Unsure of how to navigate the virtual world in a Zoom meeting with people they had never met, everyone was hesitant at first to speak up. They were even perhaps a bit nervous because this was new territory for everyone, including our own BroadFutures staff. By the last week the picture of our cohort was very different. They happily engaged in conversations and helped each other out when needed, an incredible testament of how far they came in terms of navigating the virtual space and building their own community.
BroadFutures Hats

It has been quite extraordinary to witness how relationships can develop so quickly in a virtual setting. Even though the participants are not having the in-person internship experience, they are still taking something equally valuable from the BroadFutures program. Ultimately, our participants were given the space to connect with young people who were experiencing similar struggles, successes and triumphs; these shared experiences bringing them together as a community. This especially came to light when we challenged the participants to reflect back on their experiences within the program and our BroadFutures community. Their responses on a piece of gratitude they would take with them from the program were awe-inspiring. Here are just a few examples:

  • “Learning in spaces with other people”
  • “Everyone’s unique outlooks and insights”
  • “How we work as a team”
  • “Friendship”
  • “How we communicate with each other and the bonds that we have – I will miss this a lot when I go back to school”

Responses like these helped to validate that BroadFutures’ value holds strong even with the program being held virtually. To continue creating spaces for individuals with learning and attention issues to come together, we have decided to hold a virtual Fall Program as well! The fall program will be much like the summer program – held entirely over Zoom, providing an inclusive and interactive college and career readiness curriculum that integrates the arts as well as yoga and mindfulness. Participants can also opt to sign up for an additional four weeks where they can work on an independent project or portfolio of their choosing with the support and guidance of the BroadFutures team.

To learn more about the Fall 2020 Strengths Program, download our flyer here. In addition, we are holding two virtual information sessions:

  • July 21st, 10:00am EST
  • August 18th, 10:00am EST

Please RSVP to to receive the Zoom link.

If you are interested in signing up for the fall program, please fill out this form. We are looking forward to continuing to serve our community and unlocking the potential of the amazing young people who drive our mission.