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Heart of CASA: May 2024

The Heart of CASA is a series to highlight the aspects of our volunteer work. Advocacy for a child in care covers several activities from court hearings to visits with a child to conversations with parents. Each month, we’ll share a story of a small (or big!) moment from one of our cases that exemplifies what advocacy can mean to a child and their families.

Connection to school

When Christina* first met Molly*, a friendly fifth grader, she had already missed half the school days that month. The previous month, Molly and her mother had gone to truancy court due to her absenteeism. The court ordered that Molly’s mother ensure that the child did not miss any more school without a doctor’s note.

School bus

Within days, Molly came down with COVID-19 and the flu, causing her to miss two weeks of school after court. While the absences were excused with a doctor’s note, Molly felt defeated. She was uncomfortable going back to school due to her high number of absences.

Hope arrives

That same month, the assistant principal at Molly’s school referred her to Child Advocates of Montgomery County’s new program to support children struggling with truancy: Gaining Opportunities for Achievement and Learning (GOAL) Advocacy Program. Christina was assigned to be Molly’s Student Success Advocate (SSA). Student Success Advocates are assigned by the school (Montgomery and Willis Independent School Districts only) in some truancy cases to support youth who are struggling with school attendance or participation.

Christina met with Molly and her mom to learn more about Molly’s high absenteeism. Christina learned there wasn’t one major reason for Molly’s absences—several issues combined to create a struggle. Regardless of the cause, Molly dreaded going to school because of her absences. She felt blamed by her teachers and judged by her classmates for missing school.

“She felt ostracized and felt like her classmates didn’t like her,” Christina said. “We did a connectedness map, and she wrote down only one friend’s name from school. And she couldn’t name one adult at the school as a supportive person.”

A connectedness map is a Collaborative Family Engagement (CFE) tool used by Child Advocates to identify a child’s support system, people in the child’s life who love and care about them.

A wish to belong

When Molly missed school, she also found it challenging to catch up on the work. Molly told Christina that she didn’t want to fail the fifth grade—she wanted to pass her classes.

Girl alone at school

Molly shared with Christina a goal that she’d never told anyone—she wanted to be named Student of the Week. Each week, the teachers recognized one student in the grade for outstanding work.

“At that first meeting, she said, ‘I’ll never get it—the teachers say I’m absent too much,’” Christina said. “She wanted to feel normal, like her classmates. She wanted to belong, I think that’s the main reason she wanted to be named Student of the Week.”

Christina reached out to the assistant principal and Molly’s teachers to find out what a student needed to do to be eligible for the award. Attendance would be key to receiving the honor. Christina, Molly, and her mom set a goal of completing two weeks without any absences. Molly also agreed to a second goal of turning in her missed assignments so she didn’t get any zeros for grades. As extra incentive to reach these goals, Christina promised her a gift card if she didn’t miss any school.

Celebrating the win

Molly achieved her goal of not missing any school for two weeks! Christina set a date to bring her a gift card to Starbucks. Though Christina had permission from Molly’s mom to communicate with Molly via text and phone, the 11-year-old never reached out to Christina on her own. Before their next visit, however, Christina received a text out of the blue from Molly.

I got student of the week!!

After a full two-and-a-half weeks with perfect attendance, Molly’s teachers named her Student of the Week.

Two-and-a-half weeks may not sound like a lot, but it’s huge for Molly,” Christina said. “I was scheduled to bring her the gift card that day, but she didn’t even care about it anymore! I brought cookies to celebrate with her and her mom. Molly got to sit in the fun chair in the classroom all week as part of the award. She was thrilled!”

Establishing support for child and family

Christina also worked with the school and Molly’s mother to help the struggling child. Christina participated in educational meetings about Molly’s learning needs. One of the reasons Molly sometimes missed school was due to her mother’s work schedule. If Molly missed the bus, she had no way to get to school. Molly’s mom shifted her work hours to be available to drive her daughter to school, if needed.

Christina connected Molly and her mom with some local resources for counseling for support working through trauma the family had experienced. She also shared some tutoring resources for Molly.

Molly’s teachers have reported that she is keeping up with her school assignments. She also completed all required STAAR tests recently!

Girl with Mentor

Building Relationships that make a difference

With summer around the corner, Molly is set to pass the fifth grade and start sixth grade with her peers in the fall.

Perhaps the biggest accomplishment for the fifth grader is how she feels about her classmates and teachers today. Christina and Molly completed another connectedness map recently. Christina asked her to name friends she might want to hang out with on a Saturday outside of school.

“This time she started writing down names of friends at school, and the list was uncountable!” Christina said. “She also listed a teacher that she trusted and could talk to. She no longer feels like an outsider.

*Names changed for privacy


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