Advocating in a Pandemic

Tippecanoe County CASA’s COVID-19 Response, Policies, and Procedures

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has continued to evolve, and Tippecanoe County CASA is working to adjust our operations and best practices to continue effectively advocating for the vulnerable children we serve, while taking precautions to protect our staff, volunteers, service providers, and the many other community stakeholders with whom we work. Operations have and will continue through a hybrid approach that emphasizes remote communications.

In a time of unprecedented uncertainty for us all, it is critical that the most vulnerable among us, children who have experienced abuse and/or neglect, do not fall through the cracks, and that their well-being is protected. This vulnerable population has already experienced multiple traumas in their lives, and Tippecanoe County CASA is committed to ensuring that their trauma is not compounded by abandonment when they need us the most. Together with our partners in the child welfare system, we are working to continue our advocacy, while simultaneously safeguarding the health of our staff and volunteers.

With some technology and creativity, CASA staff and volunteers can still be strong and consistent advocates for the children they have been appointed to while maintaining social distancing and quarantine protocols. In light of guidelines that have been released from the World Health Organization, Center for Disease Control, and State and local Departments of Health, the following practices will guide our work until further notice. As this public health crisis continues to evolve, these guidelines will be updated.

Most meetings will take place remotely. Staff can always be reached via email, cell phone, or by office phone, which can be found in our Staff Directory. Some CASA staff are currently working from home, and others are working in the office. When scheduling a meeting with a CASA, share your level of comfort with an in person or virtual meeting.

Some hearings are being conducted remotely through Zoom, and others are being held in person. When hearings do take place in person, we can request that the court accept the CASA’s participation telephonically. It is essential that all court reports continue to be submitted on time, in order to ensure that fact-based recommendations are made to the court. CASA volunteers should communicate with their coordinators regarding upcoming hearings.

We are continuing to recruit volunteers. Encourage anyone interested to reach out to us with questions and apply on our website.

GUIDELINES FOR  VISITS

We encourage CASAs to conduct as much work virtually if possible. This includes visits, CFTMS, and other contacts. If it is imperative an in-person interaction takes place, CASAs may conduct in-person visits if they are comfortable doing so. However, they must follow these guidelines:

The volunteer coordinator, the child’s placement, and the CASA must all agree before the in-person visits resume.

All in-person visits should be scheduled with the caregiver ahead of time. No unannounced visits should take place at this time. Immediately before the visit, call to confirm that everyone in the home continues to be free from symptoms associated with COVID-19. Discuss the use of masks with the caregiver before the visit. In-person visits must be postponed if any person in the child’s placement has any of the symptoms of COVID-19 or has been exposed to a person with a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19.

Do not visit a child if you have had a fever, a cough, shortness of breath, a sore throat, or any other symptoms of respiratory illness within the past 14 days.

Stay home if you are sick with any illness. Check your fever and monitor your symptoms before you go. Don’t go if you have had COVID-19 symptoms, including:

  • fever, chills (must take temperature)
  • cough
  • sore throat
  • shortness of breath, difficulty breathing (or other symptoms of respiratory infection)
  • fatigue or muscle/body aches
  • headache
  • loss of smell or taste
  • congestion or runny nose
  • nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea

Do not visit a child if you have interacted with a person with a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19 within the past 14 days.

Practice COVID-19 best practices, including washing your hands, wearing a mask, and keeping an appropriate distance away from others. This will reduce the chance that you carry COVID-19 asymptomatically. Consider talking to the child about the guidelines before you go visit.

During an in-person visit, the volunteer and any participating CASA staff must observe the following recommended CDC social distancing guidelines:

Avoid close contact.

  • Some people without symptoms may be able to spread the virus.
  • Stay at least 6 feet (about 2 arm’s length) from others.
  • Do not gather in groups and avoid crowded places. Visit with the caregivers and child outdoors, in an open-air environment, when possible.
  • Do not bring unnecessary items into the home and avoid placing belongings on any surface in the home.
  • Do not share pens or other objects.
  • Use a barrier, such as a paper towel, to open doors.
  • Do not use the restroom while at the visit when possible.
  • Clean surfaces in your car before and after making visits.

Cover mouth and nose with a cloth face mask when around others.

  • COVID-19 can be spread to others even if one does not feel sick.
  • The cloth face mask is meant to protect others in case the wearer is infected.
  • Continue to keep 6 feet between individuals. The cloth face mask is not a substitute for social distancing.
  • You should have received a CASA cloth mask by mail. If you have not, call the office and one can be mailed to you.

Wash hands often.

  • Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after the visit.
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 70% alcohol immediately before and after the visit.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands; if necessary, wear something on your wrist or mark your hand in some way to remind yourself not to touch your face.

Additional resources for your visit:

Tips for Video Chatting with Young Children 

Supporting Kids During the Coronavirus Crisis

Overcoming Quarantine: How to Build a Curriculum for Home-Based Learning 

How to Talk to Kids and Teens about the Coronavirus 

CDC’s Recommendations for Discussing the Coronavirus with Children 


TIPS FOR TESTIFYING TELEPHONICALLY

At this time many court hearings are being conducted virtually, and CASAs are being asked to participate over the video-conferencing platform, Zoom. If you are not comfortable with the virtual platform via video, you also have the option to appear via telephone. Please review Indiana Supreme Court’s Tips for Attending Remote Court Hearings, in addition to the guidelines outlined below.

Provide your CASA Volunteer Coordinator with the best phone number where you can be reached.

Determine in advance what phone or computer you will use to access the hearing. Make sure the microphone and speakers are working properly.

The court will call you. Answer with your name (e.g., “This is Jane Doe.”)

The court will patch in several phone calls. This means you may be called a few minutes after the scheduled start time. It also means that you may be put on hold for a few minutes after you answer until all remote attendees can be patched into the overhead phone system. Please be patient.

Once the court goes on the record, you will be asked to identify yourself and to confirm that you are the court appointed special advocate.

Be aware others can hear what is going on around you. Minimize noises and distractions. Try to take the call from a quiet space. We can have hiccups with this...like a furry friend deciding that they want to be in your lap, etc. This happens. Just roll with it - mute yourself or turn off your camera to handle it, and then return to the meeting if necessary.

Consider confidentiality! There should not be other people around you. Use headphones as needed to protect privacy.

Make sure you have good lighting and the appropriate orientation of your camera. This means the camera must show your full face. For some of us by windows, this might mean shifting the direction you’re sitting to ensure the lighting isn’t behind you, making you look like a silhouette.

Business on top - doesn’t matter on the bottom! Dress professionally, just as you would if you were appearing in person, representing our program.

When you are not speaking you may wish to mute your phone.

Even though you are testifying by telephone, the court will still administer an oath.

When you are testifying, speak clearly and slowly.

Avoid using notes. You need to testify from memory. If you need to use the CASA reports, please let CASA’s attorney know, so she can lay the proper foundation for you to use them.

Continue to advocate for, and protect your child(ren)’s best interests!

If you want to speak with CASA’s attorney in advance of the hearing, please contact your Volunteer Coordinator to arrange a date and time.

If you have questions during the hearing (not while you are testifying), please do not blurt out a question. If you are attending your hearing with CASA’s attorney, you can reach her by email at cthomas@tippecanoe.in.gov. If you are attending with your Volunteer Coordinator, discuss a plan to each monitor your email in case you need to communicate during the hearing.

When you are represented by an attorney, the attorney will speak on behalf of the organization (e.g., opening statements, cross-examining witnesses, closing arguments, etc.).


TRAINING RESOURCES

All in-service training sessions are postponed. We urge CASA volunteers to utilize online training resources to continue learning about the many issuing that impact child advocacy:

  • The Virginia Beall Ball Library mails out library books, DVDs, and other resources (all for free), as well as the postage to mail them back. Sign up for an account on their website to browse their catalog of resources, and put in a request today! In addition to utilizing this resource yourself, please consider sharing it with the children you advocate for.
  • All Children All Families, a program of the Human Rights Campaign, offers a variety of webinars on understanding and advocating for LGBTQ+ Youth. Their core curriculum consists of three webinars, and you can sign up for an upcoming one, or view past recordings on their website. In addition, they offer an archive of webinars on a wide range of topics.
  • Mental Health America offers a free archive of webinars on their website.
  • Indiana Youth Institute has several virtual events and webinars that you can sign up for on their website.
  • National CASA offers a two-part webinar series on human trafficking. The first can be viewed at this link, and the other here.
  • The National Children’s Advocacy Center has many free educational resources and webinars on their website.