By Tracy Cook, ProKids Executive Director
A year ago, when COVID-19 began to spread and public health restrictions were put into place, we all had many questions. For us at ProKids – volunteers and staff – these questions centered on our children.
How could we ensure they would be OK? How would we check on them? How would we access court on their behalf to advocate for their best interests?
Quickly, we found ways to continue to connect and advocate. Our CASA Managers made sure our CASA Volunteers got the support they needed and our CASAs did the same for our children, using calls, texts and Zoom in more robust ways than we ever had before.
Our staff and volunteers have always navigated in a world that’s complicated and unpredictable. The public health crisis added a new layer of chaos to our children’s lives that had already been turned upside down. This work, of advocating directly for abused and neglected children who are often in foster care, has never been more important than through this pandemic where access to so many of the traditional supports and services have been delayed, reduced, or intermittently closed. That’s why I’m so proud that, together, we served 1,095 children in 2020 with 311 CASA volunteers.
When our community entered this crisis, ProKids volunteers and staff found their footing quickly, adapting and finding new ways to advocate for the children they serve. They made sure our children were safe, that their foster parents and kinship care providers had what they needed, and that our children had medical care and education services. While maintaining social distancing, following public health protocols, and being creative, our volunteers kept their ties to our kids. Working with others in the child protection system, our staff members helped keep the legal wheels turning so our children would not languish in the system and could keep moving towards a safe, permanent, and nurturing home.
We keep looking to the future as schools shift more to in-person learning and our community continues to adjust. As the long-terms effects of the pandemic and its aftermath come into greater focus, it is already clear that it’s going to take more of us to ensure that a growing number of children are safe, secure and move as quickly as possible to permanent homes where they can thrive.
If we, as a community, heed this call to action we can help protect our children from further trauma, help them heal and thrive, and avoid ramifications that last generations. When children do not have stability as they grow up, they are more likely to suffer chronic health conditions, become mentally ill, be homeless and unemployed as adults and have other outcomes which mean the next generation can be part of the same devastating cycle.
Our volunteers and staff care deeply about our community’s future. Their open hearts and open minds, their willingness to solve problems and their rock-solid commitment at a complicated time have made it clear that children have a voice – no matter what.
I couldn’t be prouder of our ProKids community.