The CASA Story:
A Year in the Life of CASA Part 4 of 12
Why and how CASA was created, CASA of Central Texas milestones
In 1977, a Seattle juvenile court judge was concerned about making important decisions without sufficient information about the children. He conceived an idea of having trained citizen volunteers speak up for the best interests of abused and neglected children in the courtroom.
When he was assigned to juvenile court, Judge David Soukup was overwhelmed with the responsibility of making life impacting decisions for children. He recalls one case in particular about a little girl named Sarah who was brought into court because her mother allegedly had physically abused her. Sarah had a broken arm and multiple bruises.
“When I left juvenile court at the end of the day, I knew I was going to wake up at 4 o’clock the next morning thinking about Sarah and two or three other kids that I had seen that day. So I got the idea of recruiting and training community volunteers to appear in court, investigate the cases and give me recommendations about what was best for these kids.”
He created the first group of trained CASA volunteers and since then, Court Appointed Special Advocates has spread across the country to 49 states and nearly 1,000 programs.
CASA of Central Texas was the second CASA program in Texas. In 1984, in New Braunfels, a grass roots effort sprang to life with a group of individuals whose professions allowed them to see what Judge Soukup had experienced. They saw children who were victims of abuse being victimized again by adult rules, guidelines, red tape, and lack of understanding, time and funds. These doctors, lawyers, law enforcement officials and social workers planned a solution to the growing number of child abuse cases and the number of children who kept falling through the cracks of the child welfare system that was supposed to protect them. The formation of a child advocacy program was proposed and Comal County Child Advocacy was incorporated on March 13, 1985.
“The child advocate protects and advances the interests of the child, and prevents as much trauma as possible,” said David Pfeuffer, one of the CASA of Central Texas Founders. “God Bless those who volunteer their time and talents for this critical work.”
After becoming affiliated with the National CASA program, our local program acquired a non-profit 501(c)(3) status. The mission was to follow in the steps of the original CASA program model and recruit and train volunteers who would provide an objective viewpoint in civil child protection court cases. There were 18 advocates who completed the first training class. By 1994, our program expanded from Comal into Hays and Caldwell counties and the program name was changed to CASA of Central Texas. The program expanded into its fourth county, Guadalupe, in 1996. CASA of Central Texas now has two office locations- New Braunfels and San Marcos.
We are located in a high growth, semi-rural, mixed-income region between two major cities in Texas – Austin and San Antonio. By 2016, our organization had steadily grown to 218 volunteers and 22 staff members, who served 497 children in that year. A great accomplishment, but just 42% of children who needed an advocate.
We continue today with our mission to advocate for abused and neglected children in the courts and child welfare system by recruiting, training, and supporting community volunteers. More of these volunteers are needed to help us reach our goal of providing a CASA volunteer to every child in state care. Can you help CASA reach this goal?
Next month, learn what a volunteer does to become a Court Appointed Special Advocate in part five of our series, Volunteers Step Forward: Why CASA volunteers are qualified to advocate for children, background checks and training.
iN THE cOURTROOM
A Year in the Life of CASA Part 3 of 12
Who is involved in a CPS case, what are their roles, how often does this happen?
In 2016 in our four-county service area of Caldwell, Comal, Guadalupe and Hays Counties, CASA again saw an increase in the number of children being removed from their homes because of abuse and neglect. Not only did Child Protective Services and the Family Court Judges confirm abuse was happening in the home, but for 1,190 children in Central Texas, it was decided the risk was so high and the abuse was so severe, that they had to be brought into the State’s protective care.
When a child is removed from home, parent’s rights are temporarily restricted and the State of Texas becomes the legal guardian of the child, referred to as “Temporary Managing Conservatorship.” As the parents work to create a safe and stable home for the children to return to, the court ensures that CPS is meeting the needs of the child – things like medical care, mental health care, and educational services.
The Judge in the courtroom has the responsibility of making decisions on legal actions applying to the children and parents. The Judge listens to everyone’s testimony and uses the provided information to make decisions on questions such as where and with whom the child lives, when and how often visitation occurs with parents, and, ultimately, if and when it is safe to return a child to the home.
Many people are present in the courtroom to provide testimony from various perspectives. Child Protective Services assigns a Caseworker to each child. This Caseworker is responsible for making sure all services are in place and that each child’s individual needs are being addressed. They provide referrals and connections to services in the community. They are the front-line connection from CPS to the child. CPS is also represented in court by their attorney.
Each parent is usually present and often represented by an attorney since these are legal proceedings against them. If there is more than one parent, there may be one attorney for each parent. If a sibling group is involved, there may be multiple parents and multiple attorneys. Each attorney represents their own client’s wishes.
Also, by State law, a special attorney known as an Attorney ad Litem is appointed to each child for the purpose of representing the child’s desires since minor children cannot make legal decisions or legally represent themselves in court. Our State laws also require that each child be appointed a Guardian ad Litem to represent the best interests of the child. The Attorney ad Litem can sometimes fulfill both roles. However, in many cases, what the child wants is not what is in their best interests.
This is where CASA comes in. When that conflict occurs, a separate Guardian ad Litem must be appointed. A GAL may also be appointed if a judge needs additional insight or if a child needs a caring adult to be the eyes-and-ears and hands-and-feet. Under our State laws, Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) is the only organization that may be appointed as a child’s Guardian ad Litem. We have a program model developed by a family court judge along with a history of proven effectiveness. A CASA is a community volunteer who has a heart for helping children and who takes 40+ hours of training to become certified to appear at court hearings, in schools and in the community to advocate on behalf of a child.
Also sometimes present in the court room are caregivers or service providers who have information that the judge needs to hear in order to make the best decisions for the child. These people might include foster parents, teachers, therapists, doctors, and others who have contact with the child. Service providers for the parents, such as therapists, may also attend hearings if their information is relevant to the case.
In all proceedings and throughout the entire process, CASA helps to keep the primary focus on the child and his or her best interests. Court hearings are held about 4-6 times during the 12-18 month period which is given for legal resolution, but CASA volunteers actively “work their cases” between hearings. CASA helps identify gaps in the services needed to ensure a child’s return to a safe and stable home. And when it is not safe, CASA helps to identify other options such as placement with safe relatives or adoption by new “forever” families. CASA a consistent connection, an independent researcher, and a source of critical information. For the child, CASA gives a voice, protects their well-being, prevents re-abuse and gives them an opportunity to thrive.
In 2016, almost 500 children had a CASA volunteer standing by their side in the courtrooms of Caldwell, Comal, Guadalupe and Hays Counties. But, almost 700 other children did not. These children still need a CASA. Will you help?
Next month, learn about the judge who started the CASA movement and how CASA of Central Texas has grown over the last 32 years. Watch for part four of our series, The CASA Story: Why and how CASA was created, CASA of Central Texas milestones.
A CPS Case opens
A Year in the Life of CASA Part 2 of 12
Investigation by Child Protective Services, why a child is removed from their home, what parents are required to do.
In Texas, every person is required by law to report suspected child abuse to the state intake center. From there, using the information provided, reports of child abuse or neglect are classified in one of two priority groups and the priority of the intake determines how quickly an investigation begins. Trained intake staff assign the appropriate priority based on the information available at the time they get the report.
Priority I reports include all reports of children who appear to face an immediate risk of abuse or neglect that could result in death or serious harm. Investigations of these reports must start within 24 hours of receiving the call report.
Priority II reports include all reports of abuse or neglect that are not assigned as Priority I. These investigations must start within 72 hours of receiving the report.
Once the report has been processed, Child Protective Services investigators are assigned to the case. In a CPS investigation, a caseworker may interview family members and others with knowledge to get enough information to make safety decisions. At the end of the investigation, CPS makes a ruling on each allegation. This ruling is called a disposition. There are several disposition outcomes, but one that affirms the abuse is Reason To Believe: Abuse or neglect occurred based on a preponderance of the evidence. This means when all evidence is weighed, it is more likely than not that abuse or neglect occurred.
Not all abuse outcomes result in children being removed from the home. If the judge believes the children can remain safe in the home while allegations are being addressed, it may be determined it is best for them to not be taken out of their home. However, CPS may go to court to remove children from their homes if it believes children have been abused or neglected or are at risk of future abuses or neglect and they need to be removed for their protection. If a judge decides that a child needs to be removed, the child may go into foster care.
The court holds an adversary hearing within 14 days of a child being removed from the home. The adversary hearing is a parent’s chance to present their view of what happened and how the child can be protected now. At this hearing, the judge decides whether to return a child or if the child would still be at risk of continued abuse or neglect in their parent’s care. If the judge does not return the child, he or she may be placed with a relative or close family friend if they are appropriate, available, and willing to help. Otherwise, the child will stay in foster care.
The case must reach resolution within a year of the child’s removal. Next month, learn more about what happens when abuse allegations are confirmed and a CPS case is opened. Watch for part 3 of our series, In the Courtroom: Who is involved in a CPS case, what are their roles, how often does this happen?
An Unsafe Home
A Year in the Life of CASA Part 1 of 12
What a child experiences in an abusive home, recognizing different types of abuse, how abuse affects children.
Although included in a type of abuse, physical harm is not the only type of child abuse. According to the Department of Family and Protective Services, the affirmation of abuse can relate to four categories:
- Frequent injuries such as bruises, cuts, black eyes, or burns without adequate explanations
- Frequent complaints of pain without obvious injury
- Burns or bruises in unusual patterns that may indicate the use of an instrument or human bite; cigarette burns on any part of the body
- Lack of reaction to pain
- Aggressive, disruptive, and destructive behavior
- Passive, withdrawn, and emotionless behavior
- Fear of going home or seeing parents
- Injuries that appear after a child has not been seen for several days
- Unreasonable clothing that may hide injuries to arms or legs
- Obvious malnourishment
- Lack of personal cleanliness
- Torn or dirty clothing
- Stealing or begging for food
- Child unattended for long periods of time
- Need for glasses, dental care, or other medical attention
- Frequent tardiness or absence from school
- Physical signs of sexually transmitted diseases
- Evidence of injury to the genital area
- Pregnancy in a young girl
- Difficulty in sitting or walking
- Extreme fear of being alone with adults of a certain sex
- Sexual comments, behaviors or play
- Knowledge of sexual relations beyond what is expected for a child’s age
- Sexual victimization of other children
- Over compliance
- Low self-esteem
- Severe depression, anxiety, or aggression
- Difficulty making friends or doing things with other children
- Lagging in physical, emotional, and intellectual development
- Caregiver who belittles the child, withholds love, and seems unconcerned about the child’s problems
In addition to immediate effects abuse can cause on a child, the lasting effects from the physical harm, traumatic experiences, and disruption of their lives while in foster care can have an impact that will be present even after a child is placed in a permanent, safe home.
According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, children who are victims of abuse and neglect often suffer from physical, psychological, behavioral, and societal consequences.
A Year in the Life of CASA
What a great year 2016 has been! We have so much to be thankful for as we enter the new year.
Throughout 2017, we will be sharing a deeper view of our world at CASA – the children we work with, the child welfare system, our CASA volunteers.
We will walk you through a year in a case of an abused child, with each month focusing on a theme and exploring all aspects of it. Our newsletter, social media and outreach will all be used to provide more information on each topic, all with the goal of learning more and more about our program.
I hope you will find this journey interesting, educational, and eye opening. Take a look at our topics, we look forward to kicking it off in January!
January – An Unsafe Home: What a child experiences in an abusive home, different types of abuse, how abuse affects children.
February – A CPS Case Opens: Investigation by Child Protective Services, why a child is removed from their home, what parents are required to do.
March – In the Courtroom: Who is involved in a CPS case, what are their roles, how often does this happen?
April – The CASA Story: Why and how CASA was created, CASA of Central Texas milestones.
May- Volunteers Step Forward: Why CASA volunteers are qualified to advocate for children, background checks and training.
June – CASA is Appointed: How a judge involves CASA, the role of Guardian ad Litem, the CASA volunteer-supervisor team.
July- Roles and Responsibilities: On a monthly basis, what does a CASA volunteer do?
August- The Real Impact: Real stories of volunteers making a difference for the children and youth.
September – Data Underscores the Need: Statistics, numbers, trends and projections.
October – Financial Support: Where and how CASA gets funding to continue serving the community and helping the children.
November – A CPS Case Closes: Various case outcomes for children and youth – safe, stable and loving homes.
December – Spread the Word: Share our message, help us find more volunteers and help more children in 2018.
Wishing all of our readers a safe and prosperous New Year!