CASA of Maricopa County volunteers share their tips and tricks for continuing to connect with foster children and make a difference, even while quarantined at home.

The global pandemic has made a lot of things more challenging — school, work, human connection, community volunteerism. Keeping our distance is important for the health of our communities and slowing the spread of COVID-19, of course, but that physical distance can sometimes make it more difficult to connect with foster children and make a difference.

But the good news is that over the past several months, we’ve been learning and adapting — and discovering ways to connect with children, even while quarantined at home through virtual volunteering. Here are eight tips to try as a CASA of Maricopa County volunteer when you can’t do in-person case visits.

Get creative with conversation. The screen can often be a barrier for children when having a conversation. And especially if they’ve been stuck at a computer all day for virtual learning, hopping on a Zoom with yet another adult might not be their top priority. Still, it’s important to build that connection and be able to listen. If conversation is a struggle, get creative and invite the child to share in other ways. Ask them to show you something they did in school or sing a song. Play games like Simon Says or virtual charades.

“COVID has definitely changed things.  We can finally see our kids in person again now but we still can’t take them anywhere,” says Stephanie Webster, who has been a CASA for nearly 6 years. “Due to the distance my child lives from me, I have been FaceTiming and having Zoom calls. We talk a lot and I read to her on an ongoing basis a few chapters at a time from an old book of mine that I thought she would enjoy.”

Eat “together.” You can’t take kiddos out for ice cream or lunch. But you can still eat together. Set up a Skype or Zoom call for a weekend lunchtime and arrange for food delivery. Then, you can eat together virtually and talk.

Write letters. If the child you’re advocating for is reading age, you can start a pen-pal campaign—either via physical written (yes, in the actual mail) letters or email. It’s a way for them to communicate their feelings (and it may even be easier for them than talking on the phone).

“I gave the child I work with a set of the Little House series and asked her to read a chapter or two and write me a report,” Webster says. “I sent her self-addressed envelopes with paper and she’s been good at returning and reporting. I then corrected her errors and returned her work, sometimes with a few dollars for incentive. This child has always been behind in reading and writing and spelling, so this was good practice.”

Set up a scavenger hunt. Engage kids with a scavenger hunt via Zoom that helps you check in and lets them play.

Play an online game. Find something the child is interested in—whether it’s chess, word games or video games—and try to connect via an online game.

Build a vision board. Provide the child with pictures from magazines and schedule a video call to help put a vision board together. Invite the child to share their feelings or hopes for the future.

Read a story together. Find a book or series the child can engage with, and depending on the child’s age, read it with—or to—them. For older children, you can take a “book club” approach and each read a few chapters independently and come together to discuss. No matter the child’s age, reading can be a great activity to encourage engagement. Plus, for some children, it’s an opportunity to explore emotions or safely escape the reality of the moment.

“I currently have a 2- and 3-year-old so it has been challenging to connect electronically.  They have very short attention spans so I had to get creative to keep it interesting for them,” says Patty Turrentine, who has been a CASA for more than three years. “We have Skyped and read stories over the phone, and I talk weekly with foster parents and caseworkers to stay informed and be able to advocate for what they need.”

Care packages. Send a little something to show you care with a gift that helps the child through this time in their life. Consider something simple like a journal or a special book.

“In some ways, I feel I have worked my case more with the COVID restrictions because I have time to dig into the legal aspects a little more,” says Turrentine. “I have been able to find resources for things the girls need like beds, clothing and diapers.”

And if you’re feeling unsure of how to connect while staying safe, consider utilizing the resources from Voices for CASA.

“Voices for CASA Children is so supportive of CASA volunteers and there are so many training opportunities and community events, even virtually,” Webster says. “Adaptability is the name of the game.”

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Fill out the online Volunteer Certification Application to get started on your path to transforming a child’s life.

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