This past Spring, Christine Carbone was sitting in front of her computer screen going through virtual pre-service training to become a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Volunteer. During the online session, Child Advocates staff asked all the trainees to share what age group they would be interested in working with. Very few showed interest in children under 5 out of fear of not being able to connect to a younger child. As a godmother of five little ones, she felt very comfortable working with this demographic and decided to take 3-year-old, Jack, as her first assignment.
Due to the pandemic, CASA Volunteers have to limit their visitations with their youth through a virtual platform. This caused a concern for Christine since keeping a small child’s attention through a screen could be challenging. After receiving friendly advice, she decided to create a persona using a puppet, Mr. Tiger, to connect with Jack.
“Whenever you’re dealing with a child in this ‘age of zoom,’ you really have to think out of the box,” said Christine. “You have to make things fun for them.”
Her creative approach to engage with her youth worked better than expected as Jack bonded instantly with Mr. Tiger. Throughout their virtual visits, they would have conversations that would last up to 45 minutes on zoom, a task not easily done with a 3-year-old.
Knowing that her character captured the boy’s curiosity, Christine started to implement Mr. Tiger as a learning tool. Using vocabulary flash cards and children’s books, Mr. Tiger and Jack participated in educational activities to nurture Jack’s development.
As time progressed, Jack looked forward to his weekly visits with Christine. During a regular scheduled visit, both parties were experiencing technical difficulties and could not meet through zoom causing Jack to be heart broken. To ensure she still showed up for her child, Christine decided to mail Jack images of the puppet and wrote an apology card from Mr. Tiger to cheer him up.
“It’s all done with Mr. Tiger, nothing from me,” Christine recalls, “Anything I do to build a relationship with Jack, I do it using Mr. Tiger.”
In addition to showing up for Jack, Christine made it a priority to support his biological mother as she navigated through a reunification path in the Dependency Court system. She would check-in often on the mother’s well-being and assisted her in getting connected to resources for her other children.
Fortunately, the aid helped. In October, Jack was successfully reunified with his mother. Thanks to Christine – and Mr. Tiger, of course – Jack’s experience during this pandemic was better than expected. And although Jack is back with his mother, Christine says Mr. Tiger is only a zoom call away.
Disclaimer: The story is based on Christine Carbone’s experience as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Volunteer. Some details about the foster child she serves have been altered in an effort to keep the child’s identity anonymous.