Staying Safe in the Field: A June In-Service

On Tuesday, June 19, Passaic County CASA hosted a CASA Volunteer in-service with one of our in-house experts, Case Supervisor Ed Marable. Ed drew from his four decade-long career in child welfare for his talk on “Staying Safe in the Field.”

In his talk, Ed emphasized the importance of maintaining a logical understanding of risk and practical measures to enhance anyone’s safety, CASA Volunteer or not. The statistical likelihood of something bad happening remains extremely low (in eleven years, Passaic County CASA has never once had a significant or noteworthy incident). Nonetheless safety is a wise thing for everyone to stop and consider before entering a new situation. 

Some suggestions from Ed include:

- Don't wear excessive jewelry.  Take off valuables ahead of time as a precaution.
- Familiarize yourself with the area you are traveling, in advance.
- Make sure your vehicle is in good working condition and has enough gas.
- Don't leave valuables inside your car.  Lock them in the trunk of your vehicle, if you must take them with you.
- Inquire if there are any pets in the home.
- If possible, park in the street rather than the driveway.
- Wait for an adult to answer the door before entering.
- Maintain personal and professional boundaries.
- Leave immediately if there is a perceived risk.
- Follow your intuition.

Passaic County CASA runs monthly In-Service Workshops on a range of topics to encourage continual learning, and draw attention to issues of particular relevance for CASA Volunteers, and provide an opportunity for CASA Volunteers to come together. Please save the date for the next two In-Service Workshops on Tuesday, July 21 (“State of CASA” with Erica Fischer-Kaslander from Passaic County CASA) and Thursday, September 6 (“Human Trafficking” with Susan Panzica from the NJ Coalition Against Human Trafficking).

Thank you Tricky Tray Attendees! And to all our wonderful volunteers!

Thank you to all who came out yesterday to our 9th Annual "No Place Like Home" Tricky Tray!

We are so grateful to those who attended and hope that everyone went home feeling like a winner. Of course, the true winners will be the children who get appointed a Court Appointed Special Advocate as a result of the funds that were raised. 

Below are a few photos of the fun!

Save the date for next year's Tricky Tray on June 10, 2019!

Trauma and Child Brain Development

On Wednesday, May 23, Passaic County CASA welcomed Tracey Heisler, Executive Director of CASA SHaW (Somerset, Hunterdon, and Warren counties). Ms. Heisler led a workshop on “The Impacts of Trauma on Children’s Brain Development” for an audience of CASA volunteers and staff, including a screening of the film “Paper Tigers” (


Ms. Heisler’s presentation was developed in collaboration with Dr. Melissa Sadin, an expert on children who have experienced developmental trauma. As opposed to exposure to a singular traumatic event such as a natural disaster, developmental trauma can be traced back to abuse, neglect, or household dysfunction, which have impacted nearly every child in foster care. The goal for the workshop was to help CASA volunteers understand and respond appropriately to the traumatized children they serve. Thanks to new research and growing awareness, there is a movement to recognize and provide “trauma-sensitive” care in schools and other environments serving children.  

When a child is exposed to a traumatic situation, they often experience a “fight or flight” response. The part of their brain responsible for this response is the amygdala. Over time, if this part of their brain is continually over-activated, it can actually change the physiological structure of the brain. MRI scans of the brains of both healthy children and abused children show remarkable differences in amygdala activity. The amygdala becomes overactive and can begin to dictate behavior over other parts of the brain, leading to oppositional, violent, hyperactive, attention-seeking, and/or “checked-out” behavior.

To help these children, caring adults can help recognize these symptoms for what they are. They can also take steps to avoid exacerbating a child’s prior traumas by providing predictable, safe spaces and helping them cope with their emotional responses when they occur. Over time, traumatized children can learn to trust again, but it takes the reliable and consistent presence of people who care and acknowledge a child’s real pain. The trauma they experienced may have happened in the past, but the repercussions can last a lifetime, and play out repeatedly over generations.

One of the most fascinating connections that researchers are discovering is the connection between trauma exposure and health. Using a checklist of “Adverse Childhood Experiences” or ACEs, the more traumatic experiences someone has been exposed to, the higher their likelihood of developing cancer, depression, alcoholism, drug additions, anxiety, and other adverse health conditions.

To observe the impact that a trauma-sensitive approach can make, workshop attendees also watched “Paper Tigers,” a film about an alternative high school in eastern Washington State. The film follows five students and makes a compelling argument that positive, sympathetic adult figures can have a transformative impact on traumatized children and adolescents.

More information and helpful resources on child trauma can be found on Dr. Melissa Sadin’s website: