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Feature Articles

The Healing Impact of Facility Dogs
By Marianne Schroer

As a therapist, and now in my role as executive director of a CASA program, I have worked with children who have experienced early trauma. I have seen, firsthand, the impact that trauma has had on those children from both a psychological and a physiological perspective. When I came to CASA, we explored ways to help children feel more secure within the juvenile court system. We found an organization called Canine Companions for Independence, a non-profit, that places facility dogs with organizations like CASA for the purpose of helping children and adults navigate difficult situations. In 2015, Canine Companions for Independence placed Rocklin, a 2-year-old lab-golden mix with Williamson County CASA to offer support and comfort to the children that CASA serves.

Rocklin was bred and trained as a service animal through Canine Companions for Independence and designated, based on training and personality traits, as a Facility Dog. Canine Companions for Independence dogs are placed from their breeding program with puppy raisers who socialize them and teach them their basic skills. They are with the puppy raisers for about 18 months before going to a Canine Companions for Independence regional facility for six months of intensive training. They are then teamed with an individual, called a handler, who has completed a thorough application process before going through an intensive two-week training period with the dog. Canine Companions for Independence places four types of assistance dogs: assistance dogs, skilled companions, hearing dogs and facility dogs.

In Rocklin’s time with me, he has worked with more than 300 children in a number of different capacities. We attend juvenile court two days a week to help children feel happy, calm and safe in that environment. We greet them at the door, sit with them in the courtroom, play with them in a designated room called Mimi’s Room, or stay with them when they testify before the judge. We have a Foster Care Review Board made up of citizens whose duty it is to make sure that children in Department of Children’s Services custody are getting their needs met with nothing falling through the cracks. This can be scary for children no matter how hard the board tries to make it a pleasant experience. Rocklin stays with children while they talk with the board. On several occasions, Rocklin has been requested to be with a child in circuit court when they are required to testify.

On any occasion when Rocklin works with children, there are certain requirements. The child and his or her caregivers have to be on board with having him there. We always give Rocklin and the child time to interact prior to being with them in court or when they testify so they can get to know each other a little better. And his handler always makes sure Rocklin is somewhat familiar with his surroundings and knows what is expected of him in these situations.

The differences that we have seen in the demeanor of the children during these stressful situations has been remarkable. We had a young boy who was going before the Foster Care Review Board and had told his foster mother that he was feeling really scared and didn’t want to talk with anyone. We asked him if he would like to lay down with Rocklin, which he immediately did. When he laid down with his friend, he took off his glasses, laid his hand on Rocklin’s paw and went to sleep. When he finally did go into the meeting, he had Rocklin with him and had no problem talking with the board. But he did keep his hand on Rocklin the entire time.

At Williamson County CASA we have so many stories to tell about the positive difference that this dog has had on the lives of the children we serve. Every day we are touched by Rocklin’s ability to help children feel less scared and alone.

As we look at making our courts more trauma-informed in their interaction with children, a facility dog, who is appropriately bred and trained for the work that they do, can make such a difference in the lives of children. Every experience is made a little easier when you have a furry friend with whom to share it.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Marianne Schroer has a master’s degree in counseling psychology from Trevecca Nazarene University and a bachelor’s degree in social work from University of Kentucky. Schroer is also a licensed senior psychological examiner, and a nationally certified bereavement facilitator. Her experience includes 30 years of experience as a therapist working with agencies such as Miriam’s Promise and Catholic Charities as well as having a private practice. She is also a psychology instructor at Columbia State Community College and Kentucky Department for Human Resources in the Bureau for Social Services. She also served as coordinator at the 21st Drug Court in Williamson County, Tennessee. Schroer currently serves as the executive director of Williamson County CASA. Schroer’s commitment to CASA stems from her belief that children are our most valuable treasure. If children are to thrive, they must be provided a safe, secure and loving environment.

Rocklin, a Facility Dog from Canine Companions for Independence, works along with Marianne to support and nurture the children that CASA serves. He is a 3-year-old lab/golden mix that was bred and trained by Canine Companions for Independence and certified through Assistance Dogs International. He was placed with Marianne Schroer in February 2015 and works with her at Williamson County CASA. He works primarily with children in the Williamson County juvenile court system and has, on several occasions, accompanied children during their testimony in Circuit Court. He recently “spoke” at the Tennessee Judicial Conference that was held in Franklin and made an appearance before the Senate Judiciary committee during this past legislative session.

Feature Article Archive

September/October 2016
Understanding Kinship Care and Preparing Children for Back to School

July/August 2016
Parenting Teens/Preparing Transitioning Age Youth

May/June 2016
National Foster Care Month

March/April 2016
The Role of Foster
Parents in the Child
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January/February 2016
It Takes a Village

November/December 2015
Advocating for Kids in Foster Care

September/October 2015
Permanency for Children in Foster Care

July/August 2015
Reunification/Birth Family Connection

May/June 2015
National Foster Care Month

March/April 2015
Working with Agencies

January/February 2015
Mental Health

November/December 2014
The Foster Parent Calling

September/October 2014
Attachment & Trauma

July/August 2014
Parenting Teens

May/June 2014
Celebrating National Foster Care Month

March/April 2014
Working within the System

January/February 2014
The Dynamics of Working with Birth Parents and Kinship Caregivers

November/December 2013
Navigating Behavioral Issues with Children

September/October 2013
Back to School Parenting Guide

July/August 2013
Traditional Versus Therapeutic Foster Care

May/June 2013
National Foster Care Month

March/April 2013

January/February 2013
Kinship Care

November/December 2012
Understanding the Impact of Trauma and Abuse

September/October 2012
Nurturing Identity

July/August 2012
Working with Birth Families 

May/June 2012
Celebrating National
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Finding Support 

March/April 2012
Parenting Teens 

January/February 2012
Grief, Loss & Anger in Foster Care

November/December 2011
Promoting Better Communication Among the Foster Care Team 

July/August 2011
Discipline Techniques for Foster Parenting

May/June 2011
Celebrating National Foster Care Month

September/October 2011

March/April 2011
The Impact of Social Networking on Foster Care

January/February 2011
My Personal Foster Care Experience and What I've Learned

November/December 2010
Support Organizations Provide Assistance to Foster Families, Children

September/October 2010
The Importance of Keeping Siblings Connected in Foster Care

July/August 2010
Foster Care Health Care: Finding alternative therapies for healing 

May / June 2010
Celebrate National Foster Care Month and Foster Families Nationwide

March/April 2010
Kinship Care - The best interest for children or a foster care alternative?

January/February 2010
Emancipation or Family - Uncovering what's best for teens  

November/December 2009
Discovering What Foster Parents Really Need to Parent

July/August 2009
The Importance of Continuing Education for Foster Parents

May/June 2009
Celebrating National Foster Care Month

March/April 2009
Tips for Parenting Children into the Teen Years 

January/February 2009
Finding the Money Connection in Foster Care

November/December 2008
Looking Ahead at the Future of Foster Car

September/October 2008
Living the Daily Realities of Foster Care 

July/August 2008
Recognizing the Importance of Birth Parent Connection  

May/June 2008
Celebrate National Foster Care Month in May 

March/April 2008
Encouraging Foster Parents to Take Care of Themselves  

January/February 2008
Tips to Help Parents Tackle the Teenage Years

November/December 2007
Becoming the Best Parent for Children in Your Care

July/August 2007
Helping Children and Families Cope with Special Needs Issues

May / June 2007
The Power of Family

March / April 2007
Fostering Un
derstanding in Our Schools

January / February 2007
Finding Inner Peace in Parenting

November / December 2006
Are You My Family?

September / October 2006
Girl Scouts Beyond Bars

July / August 2006
Traditionally Speaking

May / June 2006
From Ward of the State to Defender of the Country

March / April 2006
Becoming Foster Parents

January / February 2006
Thank You, Foster Parents!

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