May is Mental Health Awareness Month. I don’t know who comes up with these annual designations, but the co-occurrence of this one with the worst days (we hope!) of the pandemic seems appropriate, almost divinely planned. Whether we are blessed with sufficiency or suffocating in want, common to all of us suddenly is an acute awareness that routine is delicate. Things indeed can fall apart. The center may not hold. As I write this at the end of March, many of the newly unemployed still have at least some fumes in their financial tanks. Those fumes will soon be exhausted, however, and while unemployment terms have been relaxed, the difficulty of navigating the appropriate bureaucracy and the potential insufficiency of the eventual checks mean many individuals and families will go under, nonetheless. As CASAs, you have no doubt noted many of the same articles as I. Even without experts telling us so, however, our training and intuition would lead us to common concerns: Economic hardship and forced togetherness will strain even those homes that are healthy in normal times. For those homes that teeter on the brink of dysfunction, added stressors will have the effect of pushing many of them fully into it. Where there was already abuse and neglect, the situation for many children will likely get worse. Exacerbating the peril is that two of their primary safety nets are as impacted as anything else. Schools—key to witnessing and reporting abuse and neglect for many children—are closed, and social workers are prohibited from making routine homes visits. In addition, hearings that would update the courts on the needs of many children in harm’s way are on hold at least until April 24. If there has ever been a time to be concerned about mental health, it is now. Anxiety, depression, misdirected frustration and rage will impact our children’s’ families and our children themselves. That is why it is especially important to stay in phone or video chat connection with our cases until the lights are turned on again. It’s also why you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself if you’ve not been typically engaged recently. If you’re like me, the month of March was characterized by feeling somewhat shocked into immobility—the proverbial “deer in the headlights” reaction we can have to sudden, unexpected and overwhelming stress. Many of my volunteers began our phone calls with apologies for not having done much over the past few weeks. Despite many more free hours than usual, I explained, I, too, had experienced a decrease in productivity. But we’ve had some time to adjust. And my commitment to CASA, and I hope yours, will be to use the new month to re-engage with new fervor and recognition of need. If you need—as I do—to snap out of it, let’s promise one another to do so now.
Call or video chat your case two or three times in the month of April.
Follow up on any phone calls or emails that can be made to social workers, healthcare workers and schools.
If you believe your case needs special, immediate attention beyond your comfort level, call or email your supervisor.
Take good notes—preferably in Optima—and keep track of your hours.
If you’re unable to do any of the above, let your supervisor know.
It’s an unfortunate irony that when our kids need us most, we have the least access to their worlds. Fortunately, technology and determination can overcome the barriers foisted upon us by the pandemic. Shore up your own resolve, bolstered with an understanding of the present exigencies, and act. Not only will it help your CASA assignees, you will help yourself, for nothing overcomes feelings of futility, isolation and depression like action. Parents in need of talk support can call the National Parent Helpline at 1 -855-427-2736 or the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD.