Thank you to CASA for a wonderful Volunteer Appreciation party last week! I loved the “Power of Words” theme and the activities at the party. (I hope you got a Typewriter Rodeo poem. They were amazing!)

I also had the fantastic opportunity to meet one of CASA’s longest-tenured volunteers, a sweet older gentleman who’s name I cannot remember but whose presence I will never forget.

He asked me to write something on the chalkboard that asked for Lessons Learned. I pondered and then wrote:

Poverty ≠ Neglect

He looked at that closely, nodding perceptively, “That’s good.”

It’s been an important distinction I’ve realized lately alongside of the notion of keeping in mind that often parents are doing the best they can WITH WHAT THEY KNOW. How many of our cases involve families who have been involved in the system across generations? At what point have our parents learned how to be good parents? What did they experience as a child? What examples did they see? What have THEY been taught?

I suppose that was part of the lessons from the Trauma-Informed Advocacy training. It reminds us to make sure we’re looking BEHIND the behaviors and understanding HOW we got to where we are.

“What about the inverse?“ he queried. Turns out, he and I had a lot in common in our educational backgrounds, as I later found out as we discovered our backgrounds in engineering and computer science when he commented on my use of the perhaps archaic ‘not equal’ symbol.

I looked back at the board. Neglect doesn’t equal poverty, in my opinion. I know plenty of folks whose families have all the resources they could ever need, and the children have more than their basic needs met yet they feel neglected. So, while the inverse could be true, the more interesting thought was:

Neglect = Emotional Poverty

Again, I was greeted with his nod of approval. “Yes.”

It seems society readily acknowledges the effects of physical poverty and there are fantastic resources available to combat that from Operation School Bell to EBT to Free Lunch Programs. But we need to just as readily acknowledge the effects of emotional poverty. Mental Health is a real issue and a significant component of the human experience. As we embrace the programs and solutions to address the physical needs, let’s make sure we are embracing the programs and solutions to address the emotional needs as well.

It is hard to draw water from an empty well. In order to support our kids, we need to support our parents too. Sometimes, they are doing the best they can with what they know.

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