October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, a time to raise awareness of an issue that affects every community, and a time to commit to doing something to help support and heal victims—especially the youngest victims.
While domestic violence is defined as a pattern of behavior that one person in a relationship uses to control the other, it’s not only those in the relationship that suffer. Children experience domestic violence by seeing it, hearing it and living in constant fear of something happening again. Sometimes violence in the home leads to children being removed from the home and placed in the foster care, system where a team of professionals, as well as their caretakers, may struggle to understand how to help.
“Many of these children exposed to violence, abuse and neglect can have sleep difficulties, loss of appetite, weight problems, and a whole range of childhood trauma manifestations,” said James Schweikert, CBPI, founder of Breakthrough Parents, which provides court-ordered parenting classes, coaching and consultation. “You really have to take it case by case, first being sure you understand what’s truly occurring. Then we can give our best efforts to bring about optimal, positive change.”
Members of the community can be part of the team bringing positive change to these children. Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA volunteers, are specially trained and then appointed by a judge to serve on a case in the foster care system. They help by visiting the children regularly, getting to know the case and then reporting back to the judge on the child’s needs and the progress of the case. In cases where domestic violence is involved, caring adults can help by just providing consistency.
“If children are experiencing trauma, they are often in a place of fear, confusion, helplessness and often self-blame, Schweikert said. All of us in a position to help can mitigate further suffering by victims and spur their recovery by first improving our own skills, then imparting pro-social life skills to parents and children alike, restoring consistent, unconditional love for our youth.
CASA advocates provide consistency to children in foster care by staying involved in their case. Children in the foster care system often experience a change in home, caregivers or school but a CASA advocate stays on the case until the child finds a permanent, safe home. They also provide a feeling of safety by pointing out the positives in the child’s behavior and providing uplifting activities like fishing, hiking, or going on a picnic.
There’s a huge need for more CASA advocates in Coconino County. Applicants must be 25 or older, complete a background check and 30 hours of free pre-service training, and have about 10 to 15 hours per month to dedicate to their case. Apply online as the next CASA of Coconino County Volunteer Academy is November 30 and December 1. For more information visit CASAofCoconinoCounty.org or call (928)226-5420.