CASA Close Up
Staff Spotlight on Alex Hiatt, EDM Supervisor
1) What brought you to work at CASA?
Before I started at CASA, I worked for a CUA (Community Umbrella Agency) as a case manager. One of my cases was rather complicated and lead to the appointment of CASA. The case involved a family from central Asia, so there were cultural and religious beliefs that needed to be respected and considered. The language barrier proved to be a significant hurdle, as well as the Consulate in New York frequently calling me for case updates. I worked well with Trish and the volunteer Jen Bellot, so when the EDM Supervisor position opened up, it seemed to be a good fit.
2) We hear often about tragic stories of kids in foster care. But with CASA involved, more successes are possible. Tell us about a recent success story.
Recently, one of our clients JC* turned 21 and aged out of the system after more than 10 years in care. He resided and attended school at a program just out of state. He suffered a traumatic brain injury because of abuse as a very young child and required many supports throughout the day. Thanks to the placement CASA helped to arrange he was thriving, working in the community and receiving many therapeutic services. But according to Pennsylvania law, any youth under the care of DHS must be moved to an adult residence by or on their 21st birthday.
While I understand the law and the reasoning behind it, this still struck me as unfair. The law required him not only to move residence, but to also to adapt to new support staff, new therapists, and a new job placement. That is a lot for an average 21-year-old, let alone one who has been in DHS care for half their life.
Thanks to CASA’s intervention, JC was able to continue day services in his existing facility while adjusting to living in a new group home. Thanks to careful discharge planning we were able to offer him the opportunity of a more gradual transition to the adult services. It ended up being a win-win for all parties. It was clearly in the best interest of our client to have a longer transition period; it allowed for the adult placement to coordinate services with the current placement; and lastly, it provided some time for the adult placement to get all the appropriate therapeutic supports in place and tailored based on need.
3) CASA’s volunteer-based approach is unique. What do you think is the most thing a volunteer brings to a case?
Our volunteers do a wonderful job of demonstrating they care about the client and they are in it for the long haul. The children we work with have so many adults coming in and out of their lives that it creates a healthy skepticism. But when our volunteers show our clients that they are here to stay and their only agenda is their well-being, our youth are generally very responsive.
4) What do you think most surprises new volunteers about the kids CASA works with?
I think what surprises our volunteer who are just starting out is how quickly the youth we work with shed their defense mechanisms. Youth who are in care naturally inhabit a tough exterior to protect themselves from all the disappointment and loss they already have encountered growing up. Once it is understood that we are here to advocate on their behalf and not judge them, children quickly open-up and bond with their CASA. Growing up in 2020 is hard enough, and the revolving door of DHS involvement presents many unforeseen challenges. By closely engaging in all aspects of a case and providing consistent ongoing support our volunteers and staff give every child a voice and ensures that voice is heard by the court.