The National CASA Network Responds to Advocates’ Need for Trauma-Informed Training

Michael S. PirainoMichael S. Piraino, CEO, National CASA Association

Summary: National CASA as well as state and local programs have provided trauma-informed advocacy training to CASA/GAL volunteers and staff in an effort to promote each child’s well-being and better address the needs of children in care. Mr. Piraino gives an overview of that training.

As one of the most trusted adults in the lives of abused and neglected children, CASA and guardian ad litem volunteers can improve their advocacy by making sure they understand how to sensitively communicate with and listen to children who have been through trauma. The National CASA Volunteer Training Curriculum has always included information about various traumatic situations often faced by children who are victims of abuse and neglect. For instance, the current edition addresses the impact of domestic violence, mental illness and substance abuse on children and families. In the past few years emerging research has identified the need for trauma-informed child welfare practices. That is, a system which recognizes and responds to the impact of traumatic stress on children, families and caregivers (Chadwick Center for Children and Families - CTISP-DI Essential Elements - 9/2014).

In response, CASA/GAL programs on the national, state and local level have begun to offer additional educational opportunities on trauma-informed care. Here is just a sampling of some of the learning opportunities happening in the network.

For a number of years, researchers and practitioners have been a part of the National CASA Conference. In 2013 Lisa Conradi, Co-Director of the Chadwick Trauma-Informed Systems Dissemination and Implementation Project, was a keynote speaker. In 2014, five workshops focused specifically on aspects of trauma-informed care.

Many states make use of local resources. Texas CASA, for instance, has received a grant to send 15 teams in 2015 to Trust Based Relational Interventions training by Dr. Karyn Purvis and Dr. David Cross with the Texas Christian University Institute of Child Development. For several years at its state conference, Michigan CASA has brought in speakers from the southwest Michigan Children's Trauma Assessment Center at Western Michigan University. Several districts in North Carolina have partnered with the Children’s Home society of North Carolina to provide in-service training for both staff and volunteers.

Other states and local programs include information on trauma-informed care as part of their volunteer pre-service training or as in-service training for continuing education credit. Arizona CASA includes a two-hour presentation on trauma as part of its pre-service training. A local retired psychologist volunteers to facilitate this portion of the training covering the effect that trauma has on the brain and children’s behaviors. Additionally, tools and resources are provided for the volunteer advocate. Lucas County, Ohio offers multiple in-service trainings annually, some facilitated by CASA staff, others by local agencies such as Lucas County Children Services, and others utilizing online trainings by The National Child Traumatic Stress Network. CASA of Ulster County, NY has provided a 6-hour training each of the past two years focusing on the impact of trauma and on basic guidelines and strategies for working with traumatized children as a CASA advocate.

Attending carefully to the specific needs of every child has long been a hallmark of CASA/GAL advocacy. The additional resources now available to learn about trauma-informed care can help volunteers promote each child’s well-being and better address the children’s needs.

Author biography:

Michael Piraino has been active in domestic and international child advocacy since 1977, primarily in the areas of child poverty, maltreatment, and foster care. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Allegheny College, a law degree from Cornell Law School, and a master’s degree from Oxford University. While practicing law, he served as a pro bono guardian ad litem for children in foster care and as pro bono counsel for children in juvenile delinquency cases. He taught law at John Marshall Law School in Chicago, served as planned giving director, college counsel, and executive assistant to the president at Allegheny College, and as an Associate Research Scientist at the National Center for Children in Poverty at Columbia University, where he was responsible for developing and implementing a minority fellows program. Immediately before joining National CASA, Mr. Piraino led a 60 organization coalition for preventive services for children. As a result of his service to children, Michael Piraino received the New York Decade of the Child award in 1992, the National Association of Social Workers Westchester Citizen of the Year award in 1994 and the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges Presidents award in 1998. The Friend of Children Award was jointly presented to him and to all CASA/GAL volunteers by the North American Council on Adoptable Children in 2006. Most recently, Mr. Piraino was selected for inclusion into The Non Profit Times Non Profit Leaders of Power & Influence Top 50 in 2013 and 2014. A frequent speaker at domestic and international symposia on children, Mr. Piraino has served on several local and national boards and committees dealing with ethics, multiculturalism, and accountability for both nonprofit organizations and government agencies. He currently serves as a board member for Independent Sector. Piraino joined the National CASA Association as its Chief Executive Officer in 1994. During his tenure, the CASA movement has grown to include 75,000 volunteers serving 238,000 children annually.


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