July 30, 2021 (updated August 19, 2021)
Supporting children and youth in the new school year
SEATTLE, Washington – As children and youth across the country return to school this fall, many were hopeful about returning to a sense of normalcy after having participated in virtual learning for nearly 18 months. Two months ago, the U.S. Department of Education anticipated that most schools across the country would offer in-person learning at the start of the school year. However, the number of COVID-19 cases is steadily increasing among school-age children. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 93,824 child COVID-19 cases were reported between July 29 and August 5, with children representing 15 percent of the weekly reported cases in the U.S.
For those in the child welfare system, returning to school may bring a sense of stability—an opportunity to reconnect with friends, favorite teachers and extracurricular activities that support their social emotional health. For others who may find themselves with new foster parents, a new home or new school, the start of the academic year could bring more feelings of uncertainty. Additionally, these children who may be grappling with learning loss and the loss of family members due to COVID-19, the presence of a Court-Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) or Guardian ad Litem (GAL) volunteer can make a real difference in their lives.
I’m proud of the CASA and GAL volunteers who are providing this source of support and stability for more than 242,000 children nationwide as they lend their voice and advocate for the best interests of children and youth, including their educational needs. Through coordination with everyone involved in the child’s or youth’s life—family members, teachers, social workers, school counselors and others—our volunteers provide critical insights to the judge that can have a direct impact on the educational success and overall wellbeing of a child or youth.
Each day I see examples of the life-changing impact of CASA/GAL volunteers. Studies have shown that children who are assigned a CASA or GAL volunteer performed better academically and are more likely to succeed in school, as measured by whether or not they passed all of their courses, whether or not they were expelled, and their conduct performance. Our highly-trained volunteers advocate for what the child or youth may need to fully participate in learning by recommending resources, tools and services inside the classroom and in all aspects of their life. Especially this year, our volunteers are providing a sense of assurance by checking in before the first day of school to ease anxiety, celebrate new opportunities and offer support and encouragement.
As we prepare for this new school year, it’s important to acknowledge the teachers, school administrators, parents and community members who are working hard to ensure that students can learn safely and make academic progress. I want to also acknowledge the CASA and GAL volunteers who are helping children and youth meet their potential and capitalize on their strengths, and to thank all those who are supporting National CASA/GAL and our nationwide network in our efforts to recruit and train these exceptional volunteers. For children and youth across the country who have experienced abuse or neglect, the range of emotions in this new school year may be unknown. But we do know that having a caring adult by their side is critical, and it is needed now more than ever.
If you would like to be an advocate for children and youth, I encourage you to learn more about becoming a CASA or GAL volunteer today.
Tara Lisa Perry
CEO, National CASA/GAL Association for Children