CASA finds a novel way to guide teens into adulthood

by | Mar 13, 2024 | ALLFFP, Fredericksburg, Non-Profits, Spotsylvania, Stafford

In 2014, Janet Watkins was serving as executive director of the Rappahannock Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) when she got an idea.   

The organization, which advocates in the justice system for children involved in cases of abuse or neglect, was working with a teen who lacked strong family support.

“She had no contact with her dad, her mom had addiction issues, no one else in her family could raise her, and she’d changed foster homes,” Watkins recalled. “We kept thinking about how she was going to turn 18 without having gotten some basic guidance that teens in stable families get.”  

So Watkins began writing down things she thought every teen should know, and CASA’s Teen Adulting Guide was born.

“We figured if we could at least plant a few seeds of knowledge with the book, this girl — and other teens — might end up better off,” Watkins said. 

Teens approaching adulthood want to get out and “do the world the way they want to do the world,” said Edie Evans, CASA’s current executive director. “Which is completely appropriate.”  

Rappahannock CASA staff began soliciting ideas about topics that serve as the “nuts and bolts” of adulting. Staff members reflected on their own parenting and life experiences and relied on experienced case manager Jill Payne for more nuanced guidance and context.

Staff compiled the information into a 60-page document and put it in a three-ring binder to share with the teens they encountered. Inside, the manual outlines basic steps toward independence that many adults take for granted: how to open a bank account, how to create a resume, how to rent an apartment, or how to buy their first car.  

For teens navigating the foster care system, these instructions for life sometimes fall by the wayside. Evans said that while most adults had parents who set boundaries and expectations, that wasn’t often the case for the youth they serve. Evans estimates that out of the 124 children her organization worked with last year, up to 35% of them were teenagers.  

“The guide is something they can carry with them, and if they don’t have a responsible adult to turn to, to ask questions to, they can use this guide and maybe relieve a little of that anxiety teens experience about the next stage of life,” she said.  

With a $4,000 grant from the Duff McDuff Green Jr. fund from The Community Foundation, the teen resource guide can now be updated and professionally bound by Stafford Printing for young adults to take home. Evans said the ease of accessing the guide and the addition of some eye-catching artwork makes it attractive for the youth.

But most importantly, the guide functions as an entrance ramp to adult life. Evans noted that many of the teens CASA serves grew up with social workers, attorneys, judges, therapists and school officials making major decisions about their lives.

“They’re not always invited to participate in those conversations and that’s frustrating to them,” she said. “These kids are going to become adults and there is no stopping that. We just want them to do it smartly.”

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