By Michelle Schaefer, Strategy And Reporting Manager
As school ends, and the hot days of summer begin, most children across New Jersey are looking forward to the summer months as they anticipate family vacations, beach days, sleepovers, and time spent with friends and family. For children in foster care, however, the summer season can look starkly different.
Sadly, children in foster care often end up shuffled from one foster home to another for “respite care” while their assigned foster parents are away on vacation. That means packing a bag and once again moving to a home full of strangers, feeling lost in unfamiliar surroundings, and sleeping in a strange bed.
Kids in foster care are often placed in foster homes quite distant from their home neighborhoods. Federal and state legislation strives to provide these children with educational stability through their time in foster care, mandating that they attend school in their home district whenever feasible. Throughout the school year, that can mean long bus rides to their home school district from out-of-district foster homes. When school ends for the summer, though, these children find themselves isolated, living far away from their school friends and the social circles of their classroom peers. Friends may be too far away for get-togethers to be easily or frequently arranged. Thus, foster children are more likely to miss out on the fun, carefree time with friends that most of our children take for granted each summer.
In order to supervise children in foster care, adult caregivers must undergo background checks by the Division of Child Protection & Permanency - a requirement to ensure the safety of these children. However, the bureaucracy necessitated by this requirement means invitations to sleepovers at the homes of friends must often be declined.
Further, children in foster care who require educational support may find their educational needs overlooked during the summer, as teachers and school staff are not available to focus on their academics. That means educational decline that may leave them even further behind when school resumes in September.
But Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs) can help their CASA children navigate these summer challenges…
CASAs watch over their children, no matter where the children are placed and no matter the month of the year. When a child is temporarily placed in a respite home, his or her CASA may be the only familiar face to come and visit during that time. As a familiar face, that CASA may be able to speak up for a shy child or calm down an upset child offering respite foster parents ideas for how to make the child more comfortable and at ease during respite care –what foods they prefer, bedtime routines, likes and dislikes, etc.
CASAs work with caseworkers and foster parents to identify summer camps for the children to attend, helping ensure that these children have positive experiences during the summer and build important social skills. When needed, CASAs advocate for tutoring to be implemented during summer months, helping their CASA children to receive the support they need to thrive academically when the new school year begins.