As Court Appointed Special Advocates, we are appointed by a Judge to serve as the investigative arm of the court and we become the voice of the child. One of the pledges we take at the onset of our case is to see the child a minimum of once per month. This initial meeting may cause some anxiety on both sides. The following are some tips and thoughts to assist in making this first impression a lasting one.
- First, it is all about the child. No matter what age, this young person has experienced some level of trauma. You are there to help care for this wounded soul. There will be another time and place to address your own reactions.
- Remember you are the stranger. You are probably more excited to be meeting them than they are to be meeting you. Don’t force interaction. Take it slow.
- Bring three sets of ears. One set for receiving the message that is spoken, one for receiving the message that is conveyed silently, and one for receiving the feelings of the sender. It is important to “hear” the silent messages. (Adapted from “Learning to Listen to Trainees,” Ron Zemke and “Learn to Read Nonverbal Trainee Messages,” Charles R. McConnell)
- Be honest with the child. Answer any questions the child may have. If you are unsure of the answer, tell the child you will find the answer and let them know. You are not expected to be an expert. Just show up and be yourself.
- The child will identify with you through their senses — all which may be on guard. Speak softly. Wear neutral colors. Don’t wear heavy perfume. Touch only when appropriate.
- Never underestimate the importance of being prepared. If time allows find out via the foster parent or social worker a favorite interest of the child. Bring a simple token relating to that interest. Don’t forget the resources at the CASA office that are available for your child visits.
- Have a couple conversation starters in the back of your mind. Here are a few good ones: What do you day dream about? What have your friends been up to? What is a memory that makes you happy/sad? What is the funniest word you know? Are you an early bird or a night owl? Would you rather spend time in the country or in the city?
- Aim to have your first visit short in length and low key. Build on that in future visits as you gradually form a bond with the child. Possibly ask the child for their permission to visit again.
- After the first visit, consistency is key. Be consistent with the time and place of your visits when possible. I like to think of it as…Be the cream filling in the Twinkie – always there when expected. With that consistency comes trust.