Friday, April 14, 2017

CASA: Giving a Voice to Children in Need

YWCA Clark County is driven by the desire to help those most vulnerable in our community. Our Clark County CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) Program is one of the many ways we do that.

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, and CASA is designed to advocate for the best interest of Clark County children in the dependency system, and be their voice in the court system.

Blue and silver pinwheels are displayed in communities
nationwide to recognize Child Abuse Prevention Month
Fueled by the hard work and dedication of our volunteers, CASA typically advocates for over 600 children each year. Sheryl Thierry, YWCA Clark County’s Director of CASA, has noted an increase in the number of dependencies filed in the county.

In fact, the numbers of cases of child abuse or neglect reported in Clark County, as well as Washington State on whole have been increasing over the last few years. Thierry discussed two factors contributing to the rise: substance use and mental health issues.

The United States is the middle of an opioid epidemic, with over 33,000 people dying of opioid overdose in 2015 alone. Neither Washington State or Clark County have been immune to the crisis.  “It has impacted the county, and led to an increase in neglect cases that are filed,” said Thierry.  “Untreated substance abuse has led to homelessness for families, and unsafe living conditions for children” in our community.

Mental health issues in parents and caregivers can also be a factor in child abuse and neglect. Unfortunately, Washington State is currently ranked 48th in the country in providing access to mental health services. “Mental health is a major factor in many of our cases, and the lack of resources in Clark County creates delays, and often acts as a permanent barrier for parents who cannot get the specific type of help they need,” said Thierry. “There are also lack of mental health resources for children with significant, and often violent behavioral issues.”

Despite these hurdles CASA volunteers tirelessly pursue the best interests of the children and families they work with. “We collaborate with social workers, teachers, therapists, and other team members to assess each child’s needs, and what changes parents need to make to provide a safe and stable home for their children.” said Thierry.

If a reunion with their parents isn’t an option, CASA works to monitor placements, makes recommendations to the courts, and ensures the child’s specific needs are met in their placement home. Advocates also visit children at least once a month in various settings to get to know the child personally.

Above all, CASA volunteers stay vigilant in their support for the children they advocate for, and remain a constant and stable adult presence in their lives.

There are numerous ways you can support CASA and the growing numbers of children needing advocacy. Join YWCA Clark County for a CASA Open House on Wednesday, April 19th from 4-6pm to learn more about our program, and to discover how you can help.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

I just don’t have what it takes to volunteer

Rachel Pinskey, Volunteer with Nichole Peppers, Director of Volunteer Development.

Of course you do! You believe in the mission of YWCA Clark County and you have some skill or another at which you excel, and which you enjoy doing. Now, how do those skills line up with the needs of YWCA?

Did you love learning Spanish in school, then followed up by travelling in Spanish speaking countries, but here in Washington, you have limited opportunities to use your skill? Or, are you a native Spanish speaking individual, who would like to use your native language more?

Here’s a way to use your Spanish to benefit others-- YWCA Clark County has a need for volunteers who can provide Spanish speaking advocacy for victims of domestic violence. You can help victims understand their rights and resources as they navigate through the legal and social services relevant to their particular situations.

Suppose you are really concerned about supporting victims of domestic violence, but only speak English? Good news for you. English speaking volunteers are also needed to answer hotlines, assist with shelter facilities support, and provide information to those in crisis.

Do you like researching things and ideas? Have you ever considered what it might be like to be an investigator? A CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) is responsible for advocating for the best interests of a child who is involved in legal proceedings. As part of this responsibility, you will be trained to, and expected to, investigate the facts of the case, and make recommendations to the court system on behalf of the child.

Are you a good listener with daytime availability? As a sexual assault victim and survival advocate, you may help a victim and their family to navigate the medical and legal system, as well as provide ongoing support as they try to put their life back together.

Suppose you really want to volunteer…to do good…but are still a little hesitant? We still need you! Take baby steps.

Apply online by March 30th to make it into the spring training cycle starting April 6th. You can also contact Nichole Peppers, Director of Volunteer Development at 360-906-9112 or npeppers@ywcaclarkcounty.org for more information.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

2017 Classic Wines Auction Raised Record Revenue

Thank you to our sponsors, guests and donors who helped make this our best year yet at Classic Wines Auction. Along with our four nonprofit partners, we raised $3.5 Million to support our programs which serve thousands of women, children and families in the Vancouver/Portland area.

It is not too late to support YWCA Clark County!

We have limited seating available for private wine dinners hosted by our generous supporters.

Register by March 27th for a special gourmet dinner at Janis and Dan Wyatt’s on May 18th featuring Ledson Winery, or for an overnight package in downtown Portland with dinner at Headwaters, wine from Basel Cellars Winery and a special after-hours tour of the Wyeth Collection at the Portland Art Museum on October 27th.

If you have any questions, please call Kate at 360-906-9123.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Survivor Jailed After Filing Protection Order

By Michelle Polek

A woman who is also an undocumented immigrant was recently arrested in El Paso, Texas. The impetus for her arrest? She had been seeking a protection order to keep herself safe from her abuser. The survivor’s lawyer noted that it was very possible that the woman’s abuser had provided the tip to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that she would be in the courtroom that day.

When I read about this for the first time, the words swirled in front of me. My stomach dropped. Anger and helplessness swelled on behalf of all the program participants we work with: the survivors who are navigating fear of the immigration system on top of the daily trauma that violence brings.      
Domestic violence is an issue that affects all communities. The intersection of domestic violence and immigration status, however, creates additional obstacles for survivors – and more tools for abusers
to exploit.

Threats and intimidation around deportation are ugly but coldly effective ways that abusers hold power over survivors. If the abuser has legal status and is a survivor’s only means to obtaining status, abusers may withdraw or threaten to withdraw that support. Survivors are often isolated in their new country without a support network, and other immigrants in the community may fear becoming involved with helping survivors – threats of deportation can extend to them and their families, too. Regardless of their own legal status, abusers may threaten to report undocumented survivors to ICE, creating a climate of fear that at any moment, the survivor might be arrested and deported. And abusers often triumphantly keep their children.

The children of survivors also suffer when the threat of deportation is so tangible. They may themselves be undocumented and included in the abuser’s threats of deportation. They may be living daily with the anxiety that at any moment, their parent will be taken away.

There’s no reference to children in the El Paso arrest. However, this survivor has another important layer of oppression to her experience: she is a transgender woman. I mention this aspect of her identity because it is important to recognize that transgender women (particularly transgender women of color) experience violence at a disproportionate rate, including in their relationships. In 2012, 14 percent of all victims of domestic violence homicides were transgender women of color.

I am grieving the fact that, in this moment, I feel that I can’t ethically encourage undocumented survivors to seek protection orders as a way to stay safer. This arrest has created a wave of fear that is echoing across families and networks of survivors and communities with undocumented loved ones. When we make conditions unsafe for survivors to report violence, we are empowering the people who are perpetrating that violence. We are sending a clear message to survivors that their safety is not a priority to us.
This is unacceptable.

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, SafeChoice is here to help. Our hotline is available 24/7 at 360-695-0501. You can walk into our community office (located at 3609 Main Street) to meet with an advocate from Monday-Friday, 9am-3pm. All of our advocates have immediate access to translators over the phone. We also have a Spanish bilingual advocate, Beatriz Velasquez, who can be reached at 360-906-9148.

Decline to Sign on I-1552

by De Stewart

Community wellness and safety depends on us protecting the most vulnerable members of our society, those who experience the highest levels of discrimination. For this reason, Washington state has had anti-discrimination laws in place for over 10 years.

A vocal minority wants to overturn our anti-discrimination laws, claiming people will “pose” as transgender to attack women in public restrooms, yet there has never been a reported instance of this happening. However, there are many documented instances of transgender individuals being bullied
and physically harmed in public restrooms.

It is already illegal to use a public restroom for the purpose of peeping, stalking or sexual assault. YWCA Clark County, Washington State Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs, and the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence oppose the initiative, stating it will make restrooms less safe for all.

Privacy is another concern. Privacy is important to everyone, and it can be obtained by closing the door to a stall or installing curtains on showers. Opponents of equality prey on fear to justify discrimination against transgender community members; our family members, classmates, friends, and co-workers.

Action: You can reject I-1552 when you sign petitions such as the one at http://action.wawont.org/page/s/I1552 stating that you decline to support any measure that would threaten anti-discrimination laws.

Accepting Nominations

Nominations are being accepted until May 5th, 2017 for the  Val Joshua Racial Justice Award and Youth Social Justice Award. These awards are presented annually to those who have demonstrated leadership working toward eliminating racism and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all people.

The Val Joshua Award was originally given to Val Joshua in 1989 to recognize her life-long commitment and work toward eliminating racism. Honorees will receive a distinguished award and the Youth Social Justice Award recipient will be given a $500 scholarship. A community celebration will be held to honor the recipients on June 7th, 2017.

For more information and to nominate someone today, visit: ywcaclarkcounty.org/vj-awards or call Stephanie at 360-906-9143.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

A Family Reunited

There are an astounding 624 children currently in the county’s foster care system. Our CASA program has only 134 volunteer advocates to support 368 children, and 9 Program Specialists to support 256 children. And, on average there are 35 new children who need advocates each month. With your support, we will be able to recruit, screen and train more volunteers and staff who can provide advocacy for our most vulnerable children.

CASA volunteers can attest to the poignant reality, sorrows, and joys of their critical involvement with the program. Take this account as told by a Clark County CASA volunteer, a story of persistence and transformation, as an example of the impact CASA has on the lives of children whom desperately need a voice:

The woman whose case I was assigned started out as a foster child herself. The family who adopted her from the system ultimately abandoned her. Unfortunately, as an adult she became involved in unsafe relationships that resulted in the birth of her son with a man who abused her and introduced drug experimentation, leading to her addiction. When Child Protective Services removed her son, she left her abuser, but was simultaneously experiencing emotional and physical abuse, addiction, untreated mental health diagnosis, and homelessness. The mother’s homelessness and drug addiction had control of her life for the first year of her dependency case.

The turning point was when she realized she had to get her life together in order to get her son back. She sought services at YWCA Clark County and accessed domestic violence support through our SafeChoice program. She eventually found housing, enrolled in parenting classes and continued her addiction treatment, all in an effort to provide a better life for her son.
Her case workers continually recognized what a strong woman she was and that nothing was going to stop her from gaining complete control over her life and be the best parent she could be. She applied for a Family Unification Program housing voucher and was denied but applied again and with over 10 supportive references from community members, was approved and would be moving her and her son to their own apartment.


I will never forget the first time I saw her and her son in their new home. She said for the first time in her life, she has her own place and gets to share it with her little boy! After six months of continued progress, growth, and success as a now single mom, her case was dismissed. She is two years clean and sober, found healing from her past, and felt empowered to handle the current and future challenges of raising a child on her own.

I collaborated with her attorney and independent social worker and ensured that the resources she needed to help with drug treatment, housing, critical medical, daycare, and educational services for her son. But most importantly, my conversations with her along her journey are what stick with me the most. She said people believing in her made it possible for her not to give up on herself.  

I am so thankful I had the opportunity to witness this incredible journey and that I had a small part in the creation of a brand new happy, healthy, and safe family.”
-Heather Redman, CASA Volunteer

YWCA Clark County Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Program operates on the principle that every child has the right to a safe, permanent, and loving home. When CASA volunteers are sworn-in by a Judge, they commit to representing the best interests of children who have been removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect. For many of these children, their CASA volunteer will be the one constant adult presence in their lives.

The CASA volunteer speaks for the child in the courtroom and ensures they don’t get lost in the complicated legal and social service system. Due to the advocacy and services of YWCA Clark County CASA, recently twelve children returned to their homes, and four children were adopted or gained guardianship. Notwithstanding these accomplishments, Clark County’s CASA program is still lacking sufficient volunteers and staff to meet the growing needs of all children in foster care.

Please consider a gift that will help us raise vital funds for CASA to provide quality representation, like Heather, for all children in need of an advocate. Your support could save the life of a child. When you support CASA, YOU are an advocate for the children of Clark County. Please help us ensure sure that all the children in our community are safe and well-nurtured. Your donation will help make this happen.