July in Oklahoma is full of sun, swimming pools and tons of other fun activities for children. Most children have the opportunity to enjoy their summer vacation by attending camps, participating in sports or having a summer job.
Yet there are many children in foster care who do not get the chance to experience these sorts of summertime activities.
Removed from home and placed in the child welfare system because of evidence of abuse or neglect, these children are already facing trauma that no child should experience. On top of all that, their participation in normal childhood activities with their peers often becomes an afterthought.
“Kids in foster care can feel disconnected from other kids their age because of what they’re going through, so it’s important to help them feel as normal as possible,” said Suzanne Hughes, Executive Director at CASA for Children. “Getting the chance to participate in normal childhood activities — and just be a kid — can be essential to a child’s well-being.”
“Normalcy” is a term commonly used in child welfare for any experiences that contribute to a child’s autonomy and social functioning. Activities associated with a “normal” childhood, such as sleepovers, pool parties, having an ice cream cone or going to a dance can be imperative to a child’s sense of security, regularity and well-being.
Another aspect of normalcy is working to ensure that the realities and difficulties of a child’s situation don’t interrupt their everyday lives.
“Friendship and socialization are imperative for children to maintain good health and psychological well-being. While things like visitation, appointments and therapy are essential for the children we serve, we don’t want them to come in the way of everyday activities that are also important to their development, like school or an extracurricular activity,” Hughes said.
Foster parents, CASA advocates, caseworkers and others who serve children in care must work together to make normalcy a priority, Hughes explained.
“These children have been through enough. The last thing they need is to be excluded from fun social activities with their peers,” Hughes said. “This summer, CASA for Children aims to help local children in foster care have the opportunity to partake in normal, age-appropriate experiences.”
CASA volunteers are specially trained and appointed by judges to speak up for a child and advocate for their unique needs in court, at school and in other settings.
They also get to know the other adults in the child’s life, including foster parents, caseworkers, family members, counselors and work with them to ensure the best interests of the child come first.
Ultimately, true normalcy is achieved when children are no longer in the system and have the resources and support they need to thrive. Until then, they need a voice to speak up for them, to ensure they are able to participate in hobbies and activities that will help them grow and heal.