A childhood marked by abuse, neglect and other trauma can have long-ranging impacts, affecting a person well into adulthood. But the work you’ll do as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) can change a child’s life and even stunt the impact of the trauma they’ve endured.

Adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, are traumatic events that can cause excess stress for a child. ACEs can include abuse, neglect and growing up in a family with mental health or substance use problems. The stress caused by ACEs can have both physical and mental health repercussions, such as changes in brain development. That’s because the overload of stress hormones harm the brain, and that can affect how a child learns and copes with stress and even their decision-making processes.

These impacts of adverse childhood events aren’t something a person just outgrows. ACEs are linked to chronic health problems like depression, asthma, cancer and diabetes in adulthood — as well as a greater risk of risky adult behaviors like smoking, heavy drinking and drug use. Plus, childhood trauma also is associated with lower education and employment potential.

For children who’ve experienced neglect and abuse or other trauma, the impact of these adverse childhood events isn’t a forgone conclusion. CASA volunteers help ensure children get the services they need to help them heal and develop resilience.

But beyond making those connections, research shows that positive, stable relationships with adults, such as a CASA, can change the trajectory of a child’s life. That’s why judges are more likely to assign a CASA volunteer to children with more serious, complex situations.

Research indicates that supportive relationships are critical to resilience — and that with the appropriate support, the damage of childhood trauma can in fact be reversed. And that’s especially important, researchers say, because children who don’t resolve their traumas are likely to become adults who can actually perpetuate an ACEs cycle, passing ACEs on to their own kids. That can manifest as abuse, neglect or a dysfunctional environment at home.

One study from 2015 examined kids who had been removed from their homes and placed in stable, high-quality foster care homes versus in institutionalized care. Based on MRIs conducted six years apart, the children who’d been placed in a nurturing setting had different brain structures than the children in institutionalized care. Safe, stable, nurturing relationships can actually change a child’s brain.

As a CASA of Maricopa County volunteer, you can be one of the nurturing relationships in a child’s life — and make sure they are placed with a loving family who can ensure they continue to have the safety and stability they need to thrive.

Get Started Today!

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

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