State of Iowa Child Advocacy Board Connection Newsletter - December 2022

Government and Politics

December 1, 2022

Volunteer Spotlight - Jessica Michalski, CASA Advocate

Jessica has been a CASA volunteer for CASA of Southwest Iowa for two years, serving as an advocate for 9 children on two different cases. She is employed with Crisis Tech Line as Practicum Specialist of Student Learning Program; and has a lengthy professional history of assisting and advocating for those with mental illness, developmental disabilities, and with high risk families.  Jessica is married and has 3 children. She loves to read, spend time with her family keeping up with all their activities, and is a “self proclaimed IPHONE photographer.” 

Jessica said being a CASA Advocate “has been a dream of mine for years but I was always in a professional role where I was unable to do it.” The most rewarding part of being a CASA for Jess is being that one person for the child and family they can count on.  She observed her own family members who were involved in the foster care system have many people who came in and out of their lives. Jess said, “I have had children tell me that nobody listens to them and in my role as their advocate, I am able to tell them that I do.”  She feels as a CASA she improves the lives of children by bringing stability into their lives and ensuring their voices are heard.” 

According to Jessica’s CASA Coordinator, Anne Christensen, Jess is one of those volunteers who gets things done with very little supervision and direction. Jess is passionate about making sure the children are heard and works hard to collaborate with all the parties involved to make that happen. Professionals have repeatedly shared how much they appreciate what she brings to the table on behalf of the children and value her input.  

Amy Garreans, Guardian Ad Litem (GAL)/Attorney, shared, “Jessica’s passion for children’s advocacy shows in her work.  Her eye for detail and problem-solving skills are important attributes she brings to cases.  When she speaks about the children from her cases, her face lights up.  She truly is a gem and I am proud to know her.”

Health and Human Service case manager, Tammy Russell, sums it up best, “Jessica has been a constant support for the children in the case we are working together on. She makes herself available for the family and DHHS. Jessica has the children’s best interest at heart. She is a joy to work with and has been a rock for me even when the case is very exhausting. Jessica has great insight to the children’s needs.”

Friends of Iowa CASA and ICFCRB launched their first year-end appeal in October, including a Giving Tuesday campaign to raise $5,000 in 24 hours. On Giving Tuesday (Nov. 29), Friends raised just over $3,000! It was truly an incredible day, and the Friends board is humbled by the generosity shown by people who believe that by working together, we can provide the best outcomes for children who experienced abuse and neglect – every child and every time.

Giving Tuesday is over, but donating during this season of hope will continue through December. There is still time to donate to the Friends year-end appeal, which ends on Dec. 31. Donors may scan the QR code, visit the appeal page here, or mail a check to:

Friends of Iowa CASA and ICFCRB
Attn: Jim Hennessey
321 E. 12th Street
4th Floor Lucas Building
Des Moines, IA 50319

Coming up in December, support Friends of Iowa CASA and ICFCRB while you shop! On Dec. 16-17, visit the Kendra Scott store at Jordan Creek Town Center in West Des Moines or shop online. Mention Friends at check out or use online code GIVEBACK-DBZBS and our organization will receive 20 percent of the purchase! For details, please check out our Facebook event or our Instagram page (@ia.casa.icfcrb), or email Friends Development Director Meg Malloy (mmalloy@casaandicfcrb.org).

Welcome to Our New Volunteers!

Maya Davis, CASA, Scott County

Lucia Jones, CASA, Black Hawk County

Robert Keefer, CASA, Page County

Abigail Leonard, CASA, Linn County

Kathy Lucero, CASA, Webster County

Katie Meisterling, CASA, Linn County

Jocelyn Moeller, CASA, Bremer County

Divya Chari Mossman, CASA, Scott Co.

Brooke Nelson, CASA, Woodbury Co.

Sara Newhart, CASA, Johnson County

Linda Potter, CASA, Benton County

Rebecca Struthers, CASA, Woodbury Co.

Sonya VanDeer, CASA, Hamilton County

Crissy Vigil, FCRB, Muscatine County

Trainer's Corner

For FCRB Members & CASA Advocates:  Holidays While in Foster Care

For many, the holidays are a wonderfully happy time of the year, albeit with some stress perhaps, where traditions are held dear and new memories are made among the old memories.  We gather with loved ones and celebrate our relationships and our values. It is important to remember that children in foster care, through no fault of their own, are removed from their family of origin causing many aspects of their life needing to shift.  They may be living with other relatives close or far from home or they might be placed with foster families or in residential care far from familiar people, places, and experiences.  Their life is filled with new: New caseworkers, attorneys, teachers, caregivers, peers, CASAs and environments.  For many, their only constant is change. 

What can we do to support young people in foster care during the holiday season?

Talk to the youth. Acknowledge the challenges kids are facing and be a listening ear. Perhaps they are feeling guilty of not entirely appreciating the new changes in their life that their placements are offering them. They may be embarrassed at not being ready to dive into the hearty holiday season of someone else’s traditions of celebrations or food that others may take for granted as part of the experience. Advocates and Board Members can ask, “What’s it like for you to be celebrating this way?” and then listen to what the kids have to say.  Communicate with others if they share common questions and thoughts such as, “What about my family? Will they be okay without me?” or “Will I get to keep all these presents'' or “This food isn’t what we usually eat.”

Be aware of differences.  The current placement may be of a different culture than the child came from. This may be something as simple as different families giving varying priority to different holidays, such as Thanksgiving is sacred, or for others, it’s a chance to spend time together for a few hours, if everyone can make it work. There might be religious background differences that could mean celebrating a holiday that is brand new to the child or not having a holiday celebrated at all. Even without a cultural difference, many families have a variety of traditions and beliefs. Ask, “How are you used to celebrating this holiday?” advocate for others to encourage and incorporate the child’s traditions and customs.

Be aware that the holiday will likely trigger emotions.  Children in care may feel confused, overwhelmed or even guilty if they experience for the first time a visit with Santa or a stocking filled with goodies, decorating a Christmas tree, opening brightly wrapped gifts, or lighting a Menorah candle. They may question why those things didn’t happen for them with their family. They may feel sadness and grief over not having their own traditions occurring. These discrepancies could trigger emotional dysregulation, changes in behavior such as sleep or defiance, or increases clinginess or emotional detachment. Most children in care say they miss their family during the holidays and what visits they may have together are disjointed facsimiles of their previous holiday experiences.

Help identify extended family and fictive kin. Older children can answer the question, “Who is your extended family?” fully and accurately. But younger ones have a hard time wrapping their heads around such an abstract concept. As you listen to children about their holiday memories, keep an ear out for who comes up in those memories. It could be that a genealogically and geographically distant family member or family friend comes to light. This can be a great asset to kids if reunification is ruled out as the permanency plan and Plan B needs to be established. Even if reunification is still on the table, kids benefit from maintaining their connections with safe adults, so sharing with social workers those possible extended family or fictive kin can be instrumental in facilitating enduring relationships. Ask, “Who are you used to celebrating this holiday with?” and share the answers with the social worker. Advocate for phone calls with relatives if visits are not possible.

For CASA Advocates: The 2022 Speaker Series

To support your continuous learning journey within our organization and your advocacy efforts as a CASA, please consider requesting from your Local Coordinator the recording of a previous webinar offered as part of our speaker series.  Webinars available to watch and then complete the Advocate Application Worksheet to receive independent study in-service credit includes: 

  • Adoption in CINA Cases
  • A Judge’s Perspective on the Past, Present, and Future of Advocacy in Iowa
  • AMP: Achieving Maximum Potential; Giving Older Youth a Voice
  • Bridging the Gap
  • Inclusion Through a Different Lens
  • Iowa Transition Planning Services
  • Kinship Navigator Program
  • The Parent Partner Program in Iowa
  • Understanding the Subsidized Guardianship Program

There Is Still Time!! Register for upcoming training sessions!

The Talking Wall: Listening to the Voices that Matter Most Kayla Powell, Department of Human Rights. Learn about the Talking Wall Project, the National Youth in Transition Database, and changes to Iowa Code that benefit youth in foster care.  Discover strategies to advance authentic youth and family engagement in your role as a CASA volunteer and hear lessons learned from lived experiences from a youth’s perspective and CASA Advocate lens. December 14, 2022 Noon-1 pm. Click here to register! As this session will be recorded, please only register to attend the live session.

New! 2023 Speaker Series!

Iowa’s Family Centered Services Sara Buis, HHS Family Centered Services Program Manager will present an overview of Iowa’s array of services provided to families in the child welfare system.  January 24th from Noon to 1pm.  Learn more about these services and be prepared to share your questions from this session for upcoming trainings specific to each service! Click here to register! As this session will be recorded, please only register to attend the live session.

Solution Based Casework Sara Buis, HHS Family Centered Services Program Manager will present on the Solution Based Casework being implemented across Iowa on February 7th from Noon to 1pm.  Learn about this specific service array and get your questions answered! Click here to register! As this session will be recorded, please only register to attend the live session.

Engagement and Safety Decision Making in Substance Use Disorder Cases  Join us to learn from the National Center on Substance Abuse and Child Welfare!  Families affected by substance use disorders (SUDs) and involved with child welfare services often face a host of challenges and barriers to family well-being.  Parents with SUDs have a lower likelihood of successful reunification with their children and their children tend to stay longer in the foster care system than children of parents without SUDs.  Effectively assessing safety, risk and protective capacities is an essential element of strong child welfare practices. This session explores the importance of understanding how stigma and language may affect engagement in safety decision making and provides engagement strategies to support positive outcomes for families. This session will also define safety factors, risk factors, and parental protective capacities, while highlighting the importance of collaborative decision making with families and community partners to address family needs. March 29th from Noon to 1:30 pm. Click here to register! As this session will be recorded, please only register to attend the live session.

Family Interactions with HHS Join HHS Sara Buis as we learn more about Family Interactions Plans and the new tools available to the workers to help ensure interactions occur in safe and healthy ways. These plans are tailored to meet the safety needs of the family as a powerful tool for family reunification. Come with your questions! As this session will be recorded, please only register to attend the live session. Click here to register!

If you have questions, please contact the State Trainer at lesa.christianson@dia.iowa.gov.

Click Here for more information.