Tell us about yourself.
My name is Heather Farber and I am the Volunteer Coordinator for Richmond Court Appointed Special Advocates, a program of Greater Richmond Stop Child Abuse Now (SCAN). SCAN is working to prevent and treat child abuse and neglect in the Greater Richmond area through services that promote positive parenting, strengthen families and help create a community that values and cares for its children. Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) is a national organization and in 2009, Richmond CASA merged with Greater Richmond SCAN and became one of their five programs. CASA assigns volunteers to advocate for children who are involved in child abuse and neglect cases in the Richmond City Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court.
ABOVE: Greater Richmond SCAN’s 5 Program’s Video
What is the focus of your work?
CASAs are everyday citizens appointed by judges to monitor and advocate for abused and neglected children. They serve as the voice of the child in the courtroom, and make recommendations on what they feel is in the child’s best interest during their case. Since these volunteers only have one to two cases, they can really get to know their child and make sure they do not get lost in the overburdened legal and social services systems. During their time in foster care, many children will be moved from foster home to foster home, and will have many different professionals coming and going throughout the length of their case; their CASA may be the one constant adult presence in their lives.
What do you find most rewarding about your work?
The most rewarding part of my job is seeing the relationship that a CASA volunteer forms with their child. These kids have experienced so much stress in their lives, and unfortunately the trauma does not end when the abuse is discovered. When a child is placed in foster care, they are separated from their family and friends, and moved to a new home and a new school. It can be a very isolating experience, full of stress and uncertainty. No child should have to go through it alone. CASA volunteers are there for the child until their case is resolved. It’s great to be able to work with so many amazing volunteers who are willing to dedicate their time to making a difference in a child’s life.
ABOVE: Be a CASA Volunteer Video
What would someone be surprised to know about your organization?
I think people would be surprised to know how prevalent child abuse is. Studies have found that 1 out of 10 children will be sexually abused before they turn 18. Last year, there were 650 children in founded cases of abuse and/or neglect just in the Greater Richmond area. Abuse occurs in all neighborhoods and in all socioeconomic groups. If you suspect that a child is being abused or neglected, please call the Child Protective Services Hotline.
Do you have any interesting initiatives or programs on the horizon?
SCAN will now be distributing Baby Boxes. It may be a new concept for many Americans, but Finland has been giving out Baby Boxes for decades. This initiative provides new parents with training on safe sleep practices and a box that their child can sleep in, at no cost to the family. Too often, we see children who are injured by unsafe sleep habits, such as co-sleeping with their parents or sleeping with loose bedding or other items in their crib. These boxes are an easy solution to this serious problem.
Is your organization involved in any exciting collaborations or partnerships?
SCAN is collaborating with over 100 different organizations through the Greater Richmond Trauma Informed Community Network (TICN). One of their focuses is making schools better prepared to educate students who have been through trauma, including more effective ways of looking at discipline.
Often in our cases, we see children who have been through so much that it is extremely challenging for them to be able to succeed in school. When you are not sure if your parents are okay, or worried about your own safety, or wondering what you will eat and where you will sleep tonight, it is hard to focus on tasks like schoolwork. It is important that educators are informed on ways that they can support their students who are experiencing trauma.
How are you leveraging ConnectVA/The Community Foundation to achieve your mission?
We frequently use HandsOn Greater Richmond to spread the word about our need for volunteers. Additionally, I am a member of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network RVA, and it’s been a great way to connect with people who are doing amazing work in the Richmond area.
Anything else you would like to share?
CASA is currently looking for volunteers who are interested in serving as the voice for a child who has been abused or neglected. If you are interested, you can learn more at www.grscan.com/richmond-casa. Apply today for our next training class, which begins on January 23rd.
ABOVE: I am for the Child Video