A core tenet of CASA advocacy is to ensure that the children we serve have a safe, trusted, and reliable adult. Every child we work with deserves to feel physically and emotionally safe. When advocating for youth who identify as LGBTQ+, additional care, attention, and skills must be employed. LGBTQ+ youth are more likely to enter the foster care system, experience more disruptions in their placements, and have to grapple with multiple layers of trauma, lack of acceptance, and feelings of being unwanted due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.
At CASA, we recognize that it does not have to be this way for these youth. When we accept and celebrate these youth for exactly who they are, and encourage others to do the same, they not only survive, but they also thrive. To better the lives of these deserving children, we need to better our education and better ourselves as allies.
This Pride Month, and every month, LGBTQ+ youth in our community depend on allies to support equal treatment for all, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender. This interview with Emily Rea, Manager of Adult Education at Fairfax CASA demonstrates the active steps Fairfax CASA is taking to ensure that our CASA volunteers are properly educated on how to best be an ally to the LGBTQ+ youth they serve.
How many CASA volunteers participated in the first Ally training?
14 so far!
Why is it important for CASAs to be trained as allies?
Our number one priority as a CASA is to be that a safe, trusted, and reliable adult in the life of the child. We can’t do that unless we make EVERY child feel safe and accepted. Even when we have the best of intentions there are so many non-verbal and subtle language cues that kids who are members of the LGBTQ community are looking for to determine if the relationship is a safe space to be themselves. Beyond just saying “I’m an ally,” it is important to fully understand the meaning behind our words and actions to make sure we are conveying the most inclusive, accepting, and trusting space for the children we serve.
During the training, what did you observe as a big takeaway that the CASAs learned?
I think understanding what to do and what not to do when a child confides in you or comes out to you. There are so many well-intentioned things that could actually be inadvertently hurtful, it was good for them to hear. I also think many of them were interested in clarifying the language, labels, and pronouns so that they could feel comfortable when working with kids who identify differently from themselves.
How can CASAs best support LGBTQ+ youth in foster care?
I think self-education is the best thing they can do because it should not be the child’s responsibility to educate them or bear the brunt of their inadvertent hurtful language. The best thing they can do is be open, supportive, and non-judgmental while taking the time and effort to educate themselves. Aside from that, the priority is for every CASA to create a safe and inclusive space for their child to be themselves.
What are Fairfax CASA’s plans to continue to educate and support CASAs working with LGBTQ+ youth?
As the person in charge of Continuing Education, I am constantly on the lookout for training pieces on topics that could help or affect LGBTQ kids and families. Anytime I see one in the community I notify my volunteers so they can attend. We are partnering with Fairfax County Domestic and Sexual Violence Services (DSVS) to offer another SafeZone Ally training in July, and ideally will be offering it annually after that. My aim is for every CASA to eventually take that training and for every CASA to be educated as an ally. I will also look into inviting other speakers who can continue our education and topics related to the LGBTQ community that we can bring to our Continuing Education sessions.
We encourage everyone in our CASA community to take it upon themselves to learn more about better serving and supporting LGBTQ+ youth. Here are a few resources we find helpful in beginning or continuing your own allyship.