spread the word:
A Year in the Life of CASA Part 12 of 12
Share our message, help us find more volunteers and help more children
Thank you again to everyone who helped make 2017 a great year for CASA and our children. I look forward to what 2018 will bring!
A CPS Case Closes:
A Year in the Life of CASA Part 11 of 12
Various case outcomes for children and youth – safe, stable and loving homes.
Our vision is a world where every child thrives in a safe, permanent, and loving home. To reach for this, CASA of Central Texas has a mission of advocating in the courts and child welfare system for the best interests of children who have experienced abuse, neglect, and abandonment. CASA recruits, trains, and supports community volunteers as advocates for the children.
In the State of Texas, when a child is removed from home, there is a one-year timeline placed on the case. This means that the parent(s) and the court system have a limited time to make improvements and determine if concerns have been resolved and whether it is now safe for the child to return home. Because of this timeline, CASA asks our volunteers for a one-year commitment to the case so that they are consistent and present for the duration.
But, how a case is resolved and how is a volunteer is released from appointment depends upon available options at the end of that period. More importantly, the judge makes a decision regarding the best interests of each child. For any given case, there may be several possible outcomes and likely, many opinions represented by CPS, CASA, Attorneys, parents, the children and others. Ultimately, the Judge listens to the testimony and makes a final court order to bring a resolution.
Reunification with parent(s): Often a happy day is when children are reunited with their parents. With this outcome, parents have bettered their lives and made their home a safe environment. Previously existing risks to the children have been addressed and resolved. At this point, the children are returned home, the case is closed, and CASA no longer has any legal connection to the children.
Termination of parental rights: This will happen when, after the year, the parents have not demonstrated that they will provide a safe and stable home for their child(ren). When a parent’s rights are legally terminated, the State of Texas becomes a child’s legal guardian until there is a more permanent resolution. The CASA volunteer may remain appointed for the duration of this additional time. After parental rights are terminated, there needs to be further resolution for the case, which may include:
Adoption: A child or sibling group is legally adopted into a home with an entirely new family, often termed “a forever family,” or sometimes with an extended family member. With a plan for adoption, the CASA volunteer ideally remains on the case to help transition the child(ren) to the new home. Some CASA volunteers step down since they have fulfilled the one-year commitment, but most CASAs decide to stay. Another 6 months is minimally required, sometimes another 1-2 years. The case remains open until an adoption hearing is held – a fun, celebratory day (see Adoption Day below). Once a child is adopted, CASA is dismissed and no longer legally bound to the case.
Permanent Managing Conservatorship with the State: In these cases, the State becomes the “permanent” parent but a suitable adoptive home cannot be found. As a result, the youth stays in foster care until at least age 18. At this age of becoming a legal adult, a youth may choose to remain in the foster care system until age 21 in order to continue receiving services and support (thanks to State legislation enacted in 2008). A CASA volunteer may choose to remain appointed throughout the youth’s teen years and be involved in helping the youth/young adult through this transition to a new phase in life. This transition at age 18 is sometime referred to as “aging out.” While most PMC cases have termination of parental rights, in limited circumstances, parents may retain some involvement.
Permanent Managing Conservatorship with a Relative/Family: In these cases, the children don’t go home but parents’ rights are not legally terminated. The parents have restricted access to the children and another family member becomes the legal “permanent” parent. Oftentimes this will be grandparents, aunts or uncles, and sometimes it may be older siblings who are able to provide a stable home for raising their younger siblings. Usually after a trial period, the court case is closed and CASA is dismissed.
As you can see, every case is different and it is hard to categorize each one, but these are the bullet points for how CASA helps to find resolution on our cases. After a case closes, the legal guardian, whether it be the parents, adoptive parents or children now adults themselves, may decide the appropriate level of interaction between the children and the CASA volunteer. Whatever the outcome, CASA volunteers know that while they were appointed, they did their best to ensure these children were not alone and that their voice was heard.
CASA’s volunteer trainings for 2018 are scheduled and posted. I hope that my blog series has shown you just how important the CASA program is and how much impact one CASA volunteer can make. Next month, read about how you can play a part by reading Spread the Word: Share our message, help us find more volunteers and help more children in 2018.
A Year in the Life of CASA Part 10 of 12
Where and how CASA gets funding to continue serving the community and helping the children
CASA of Central Texas is an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that has been fundraising and operating locally for 32 years. As you saw in my blog last month, the need for more CASA volunteers is projected to increase over the upcoming years.
As the Executive Director, one of my main roles is to ensure CASA has diverse funding so that in any economic environment, we continue to provide quality advocacy for the children. Our primary strategic development goal is to achieve long-term stability through funding diversification and growth in contributions from public and private organizations, foundations, corporations and individuals. Our Fund Development Plan increases first-time individual donors and cultivates repeat donations, as well as researches new funding prospects.
First and foremost, I rely on individuals who have trusted us with their financial support. Whether it is a one-time donation or a commitment to regular giving, these donations show that when a community comes together, it can add up to something big. If you wish to make an individual contribution to CASA with a reoccurring donation, or through a retirement account, real estate or life insurance policy, please visit www.casacentex.org/give/donate/.
I am also thankful for community and civic organizations that chose CASA as a recipient of their funding. Throughout our four local counties, the community continues to support CASA by inviting us to do presentations for their members, by recruiting more CASA volunteers, and also often surprising us with a generous donation.
Community Foundations provide CASA with the opportunity to secure funding through their grants. We also apply for grants from our State and National CASA partners, and state and federal funding through our work with crime victims (abused children).
In addition to donations and grants, we also count on various fundraising events throughout the year including our annual dinner/auction and the CASA Superhero Run, as well as online giving campaigns such as Amplify Austin and Big Give San Antonio, third-party events including San Marcos’ AquaBrew fundraiser, and the Valero Open golf tournament and also a year-end giving campaign. On Monday, CASA partnered with Corridor Title on an inaugural golf tournament the “Hole Lotta Love” CASA Classic.
If you would like to fundraise for CASA, please contact our Development Director, Tricia Schneider at email@example.com
As the year is coming to an end, so is this blog series of walking through the year in the life of CASA. Next month, learn about the ways a case sees a conclusion in A CPS Case Closes: Various case outcomes for children and youth – safe, stable and loving homes.
Data Underscores the Need:
A Year in the Life of CASA Part 9 of 12
Statistics, numbers, trends and projections
An uphill battle. That is how I often describe reaching our goal of providing a CASA Volunteer for every child in state care. Each year, as the number of volunteers increase, so do the number of children who need an advocate, but at a faster rate.
Our community is a great place to live, and people are realizing that. Our county populations are increasing rapidly. But with growth, we see a sad reality of more children coming into state care.
Over the last three years the number of children served by CASA Volunteers has increased from 466 in 2014 to 497 in 2016. That was an additional 31 children who had the advantage of an advocate both inside the courtroom and out. But, in those same years, the number of children brought into state care because of abuse and neglect increased from 831 to 1,190, an increase of 359 children!
And the future looks even steeper.
CASA of Central Texas is located in a high growth, semi-rural, mixed income region between two major cities in Texas – San Antonio and Austin – providing challenges as well as opportunities. CASA of Central Texas’ service area includes two of the fastest growing counties in the state and nation – Hays (#1 in state, #3 in nation) and Comal (#5 in state, #6 in nation). Within our counties, we spread out to serve numerous small cities and communities (over 30 in all). Furthermore, population growth projections indicate no relief. Hays County in particular is projected to grow 53% from 2015-2025, as compared to the statewide projection of 22% (Texas Demographic Center). The expected growth of the age group served by CASA is even more dramatic:
|2015-2025||Projected Growth Rate,General Population||Projected Growth Rate, Ages 0-19 years|
As discussed earlier this year, we value the consistency a CASA volunteer provides to a child, the caregivers, and other parties on the case who interact with the childr. Because of this, CASA appoints a volunteer to one child, or one case, at a time, to create an opportunity for the volunteer to commit and remain serving on the case until the child is in a safe, permanent home.
Because of this policy it is evident that now, and over the upcoming years, CASA volunteers are going to become even more valuable. CASA can only serve as many children as we have volunteers, and currently, we just don’t have enough.
I am confident that there are enough caring people out there who would make great CASA Volunteers, they just don’t know about our program yet! If you have ever considered becoming a CASA Volunteer, now is the time. Help us get the word out that there are many children who need CASA Volunteers, and that CASA will provide the training and support. Visit CASA’s training page on our website for more details.
To provide the necessary training and support for these volunteers, CASA strives to be a financially sustainable non-profit organization. Next month, read about Financial Support: Where and how CASA gets funding to continue serving the community and helping the children.
The Real Impact:
A Year in the Life of CASA Part 8 of 12
Real stories of volunteers making a difference for the children and youth.
Last month I talked about what our volunteers do. But really, what is important is how our volunteers advocacy makes differences in children’s lives. I have asked my supervisors, who work directly with the volunteers, to share a few stories of how they have seen CASA Volunteers impact the lives of the children they advocate for. I hope you will take time to read these stories, as they will open your eyes to the abuse that is happening in our community, and your exceptional community members who are doing going the extra mile to make sure these children have a chance at a safe, permanent home.
Names of the children have been changed to protect their privacy.
CASA Volunteer Dale and child Vanessa-
A story of the most tragic kind, Vanessa was removed from her mother and father due to physical abuse causing serious brain injury. DFPS placed Vanessa in a foster home several hours away and a judge appointed CASA as Guardian Ad Litem. CASA volunteer Dale accepted the case. She researched every detail of Vanessa’s medical needs and consistently drove to see her. A family member, closer to home, was suggested as a potential placement. Initially, there was opposition and Dale testified to keep Vanessa in foster care. Her concern was one of protection. As the relative demonstrated his commitment to Vanessa, Dale went above and beyond to build a relationship. This past summer, Vanessa moved into his home with his family and children. Dale called special daycare facilities and accompanied him on interviews. They met together with school officials to ensure all of Vanessa ‘s very specific medical, emotional and educational needs would be met. Now in her new home, in just a short time, Vanessa has progressed more than she did in the months in the foster home and she started school last week!
CASA Volunteer Wade and child David-
Wade has been David’s advocate for five years. David has had six CPS caseworkers, along with several I See You workers. Through seven placements, Wade has consistently provided strong advocacy for David’s mental health and educational needs. Wade visits David several times a month and even visited him several times the year he was placed at a treatment center near Lubbock. Because of Wade’s unwavering dedication, David has attended most of the court hearings where the judge makes decisions about David’s care and well-being; of course, David also enjoys getting to eat out lunch as part of the outing! In addition to providing the majority of David’s transportation to court, Wade also facilitates David’s visits with his brother and his fictive mother. Wade has been the glue in keeping these important connections together.
CASA Volunteer Paula and sibling group-
Four high-spirited teenagers (ages 17, 16, 15, 14) were in foster care due to neglect by their parents. Two of the youth were placed together in the same home while the other two were in separate homes. The oldest also had a 1-year old daughter. Immediately upon accepting the case, Paula engaged in visits with each of them individually and she also facilitated visits among the siblings.
Two of the youth had a history of running away from home. Earlier this year, they ran away again, this time from their different foster placements. Paula had already established relationships with local law enforcement so when the youth ran away, she immediately contacted local officials to enlist their support and offered them helpful information. Over the next two weeks, Paula collaborated on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis with law enforcement, Child Protective Services, foster placements and family in an effort to find the runaways and bring them back to safety. While on a day trip with her own family, Paula received a phone call on a Saturday morning from a relative of the youth. She was unable to reach CPS and contacted Paula to ask for help as she found the youth sleeping in her home. Paula was able to make phone calls and assisted police with locating both youth and bringing them back into safe care. This is only one example, but perhaps the best, of Paula’s compassion and dedication to the safety and welfare of this sibling group.
CASA Volunteer Melinda and child Chris-
In 2014, Melinda began advocating for 13 month-old old Chris who was brought into care due to medical neglect. He had a cleft lip, cleft palate, and amniotic band syndrome involving his fingers, none of which had been medically addressed. Melinda went frequently to Kerrville and San Antonio from her home in Comal County to attend Chris’ medical appointments, developmental assessment appointments and surgeries. No matter how early in the morning, Melinda was there. She established strong relationships with the medical professionals which enabled her to maintain consistent communication regarding his medical needs and how they were being addressed. Now 3 years old, Chris was adopted in February of this year. And, not to anyone’s surprise, Melinda stood right by his side on that very special day.
CASA Volunteer Tracy and siblings Sam and Alice-
Tracy has been advocating since 2014 for Sam who is autistic and his older sister Alice. The children were recently placed in their adoptive home this summer.
Finding a suitable adoptive home took dedicated work. Tracy attended four adoption meetings and reviewed 10 prospective home studies. Since she knew the children longer than just about anyone else, she provided vital information regarding the children’s special needs.
Tracy fiercely advocated for specialized services to help Sam. By working closely with a Disability Rights attorney, she has put Sam on the path to receive Applied Behavior Analysis therapy that will be so beneficial for his development. Tracy organized a team for the Autism Speaks Walk and had t-shirts made to promote awareness about autistic children and siblings awaiting adoption. Tracy took the children on hikes and other outings. She helped immensely with four foster home moves and then the transition into the new adoptive home. Throughout the case, Tracy also ensured that Sam and Alice maintained ongoing contact with their older sibling who lives with a friend of the family. Tracy has been the single most consistent person in these children’s lives.
CASA Volunteer Carl and child Brian-
Carl is a super dedicated advocate! He transported 7-year old Brian twice a month for 4 months so that Brian could visit his biological family while he was placed in foster care. From his own home in Comal County, Carl drove to San Antonio to pick up Brian at his foster home and then took him to the CPS office in Seguin for the visits with Brian’s mother. Then back again to drop off Brian at his foster home. The 100-mile roundtrip facilitated bonding between Carl and Brian and, in his best interests, ensured important family connections for Brian while he was in foster care.
These stories highlight just a fraction of the work our volunteers are doing in the community. Next month, read about how our growing area means the need for more volunteers in part nine of our series, Data Underscores the Need: Statistics, numbers, trends and projections.
Roles and Responsibilities:
A Year in the Life of CASA Part 7 of 12
On a monthly basis, what does a CASA volunteer do?
Now that a volunteer has been appointed as a Guardian ad Litem (see previous blog entry), they have the legal access to all of the information they need to begin advocating for the child or children on the case.
Each volunteer serves as an advocate in their own unique way, but National CASA, Texas CASA, and our own local CASA program have minimum standards that each volunteer adheres to. The standards ensure that every child is visited, caregivers are contacted, and the overall integrity of the CASA Volunteer is upheld. These standards include guidelines for monthly contact with every child and the adults involved in the case:
- In a timely manner after appointment, obtain first hand a clear understanding of the needs and situation of the child by reviewing all relevant documents and records and interviewing the child, parents, social workers, teachers and other persons to determine the facts and circumstances of the child’s situation.
- Communicate with the CPS caseworker and at least one time per month for the duration of the case.
- Meet the child(ren) in a timely manner after appointment and meet in person with the child(ren) at least one time per month
- Have other types of age-appropriate contact with the child(ren) including telephone calls, emails, and/or letters as applicable for the child’s age and interests.
- Meet in person with the child’s primary placement provider in a timely manner after placement occurs, and communicate with the placement provider at least once a month thereafter for the duration of the assignment of the child’s case.
- Advocate in the community for the child(ren)’s best interest by interfacing with mental health, medical, legal, educational and other community systems to assure that the child(ren)’s needs in these areas are met.
- On each case, assigned CASA staff and CASA volunteers will communicate at least once a month so as to update records and contact logs and participate together in scheduled case conferences.
Using these guidelines and status as a legal guardian, each volunteer makes contacts, visits and inquiries based on the needs of the child on the case. For some children, once a month contact is sufficient. Other children and volunteers prefer more frequent visits. Visits may be done in the child’s placement (foster home, shelter, treatment center), at their school, on an outing together, or in another appropriate setting. The goals of the visit are to bond, get information about how the child is doing, and to show the child that someone is thinking about them.
Monthly contact must also be made with the child’s CPS caseworker to make sure the CASA volunteer has up-to-date information about the case, and for the volunteer to share anything they might have learned through a recent visit with the child or caregiver.
The CASA Volunteer must also communicate monthly with the child’s placement. This can be done during a visit with the child in their placement, or it can be though a telephone call. The goal of this monthly check in is to find out from the day-to-day caregiver anything that is working well in the home, and if there are any concerns that need to be addressed.
Depending on the child’s needs, more visits and contacts will be made each month. For example, if a child is enrolled in therapy, the CASA Volunteer will connect with the therapist each month and get an update. If there is a concern for the child’s education, the CASA Volunteer will contact or meet with teachers and school officials to ensure special needs are being met.
Volunteers may also keep monthly contact with other involved in the case including parents and siblings of the child, the child’s attorney and anyone else who can help provide a full picture for the child’s life and needs.
This information is all documented each month and shared with the CASA Supervisor as a sounding board and to get guidance on moving forward with the case. About once every three months, a court hearing is held and the volunteer uses all of the information they gathered from these monthly visits and contacts to make recommendations to the judge, about the child’s best interests.
Although CASA has minimum standards, each case will look different, and that is why our volunteers and their unique backgrounds and perspectives are valued. I always say, we need ordinary people to do extraordinary things, and CASA Volunteers are just that.
Next month, I will share about the impact a volunteer can have, in part eight of our series, The Real Impact: Real stories of volunteers making a difference for the children and youth.
CASA is Appointed:
A Year in the Life of CASA Part 6 of 12
How a judge involves CASA, the role of Guardian ad Litem, the CASA volunteer-supervisor team.
In Caldwell, Comal, Guadalupe and Hays Counties, CASA is appointed to children and youth as a Guardian ad Litem, or GAL. The term GAL refers to the legal status of the CASA volunteer’s position and can be translated to Legal Guardian for the Court’s purposes only. Following the laws of the Texas Family Code, with this appointment, CASA volunteers have legal access to the children and their caregivers, as well as documents and information relevant to the child’s well-being just as would a parent or legal guardian. The GAL is appointed for the purposes of this particular court case to represent the best interests of the child. (Note, the words “child” and “children” in this blog are used broadly to include babies, children, youth ,and young adults, ages from birth to 21 years.)
The judge who oversees the Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship (SAPCR) has the authority to appoint CASA. Anyone can ask the judge to appoint CASA to the case — the Child Protective Services caseworker, the child’s attorney, parents, or anyone else who feels the child would benefit from a special advocate on the case.
Some children who are involved in the child welfare system remain in their parent’s home and care while the case is open. However, if abuse has been severe, or if the judge decides the home is a high risk situation, the judge will order the parent’s rights to be temporarily restricted and the children will be brought into State protective custody. Typically, it is on these cases when a child is placed in foster or State care that judges will appoint CASA.
When CASA is appointed to a case, a staff Case Supervisor is assigned to oversee the case management and ensure that quality service standards are upheld. The Case Supervisor consults with the Training Coordinator to identify which available volunteer would be the best fit for the case. That volunteer is contacted and offered the case. The volunteer can then accept and meet with the supervisor who provides an overview and a starting point as well as ongoing guidance and support for the duration of the case.
CASA of Central Texas standards state that for every 25 volunteers, there must be a staff Case Supervisor to support and oversee those volunteers. By limiting the maximum ratio, we ensure that each supervisor has the time to provide adequate attention to each case and generous support to each volunteer. The Case Supervisor guides the volunteer through casework, providing both practical guidance and emotional support.
The Case Supervisor and the CASA Volunteer work as a team, and a volunteer is never alone. Our goal is to ensure that every volunteer has the tools and support to remain on their case until there is resolution for the child. Together, the CASA team works to ensure that each child’s best interests are represented, that each child has the services needed for placement, education, medical and mental health care, and that each child eventually finds a safe and stable home, out of the child welfare system.
Next month, learn how appointed volunteers spend their time advocating for children in part seven of our series, Roles and Responsibilities: On a monthly basis, what does a CASA volunteer do?
Volunteers Step Forward:
A Year in the Life of CASA Part 5 of 12
Why CASA volunteers are qualified to advocate for children, background checks and training.
Advocating for children who were abused and are now in the child welfare system is a responsibility that we take seriously. It is a privilege for me to be a part of this organization and be surrounded by caring, dedicated community members who give their time and hearts to the children. But, before volunteer service begins, CASA has the responsibility to make sure volunteers are properly screened and trained, so that highly qualified individuals are assigned to the court and the children in our care.
Our screening process begins with an application form which provides a snapshot of a prospective volunteer. Also included are consent forms for background checks which include a DFPS Abuse & Neglect Registry check and a driving record check. CASA also requires our prospective volunteers to have their fingerprints run by the federal government for a criminal history check. We also ask for 5 personal references.
After CASA receives a completed application packet, the prospective volunteer is scheduled for a one-on-one interview with our trainer. This is where CASA gets to know the volunteer on a more personal level. What are their motivations for volunteering, what are their concerns about getting involved with abused children, what personal experiences might have effects, positive or negative, on their duties as a volunteer? We want to ensure volunteers are self-aware of biases and triggers so that they can practice self-care and so that we can be informed when matching a case assignment to them. CASA staff is trained to identify red flags, and also to get a feel for which cases a volunteer might be most appropriate for.
After initial screening, training begins. Our traditional training format is a 4-hour session once a week for five weeks. Between classes, outside reading and homework is required which then leads to group discussion. Training curriculum aims to teach about the court system, child abuse and neglect, the role of the CASA volunteer, the roles of various parties on the case, how to advocate for a child, and much more. Although specific topics are covered, classroom time is often led by conversation from trainees, looking at case studies and discussing options for advocacy.
Here are the main topics that a prospective volunteer can expect from CASA’s pre-service training:
Chapter 1: Introducing the CASA Volunteer Role
Understanding Child Abuse & Neglect and Principles & Concepts That Guide CASA/GAL Volunteer Work
Chapter 2: Introducing the Law, the Child Protection System & the Courts
The Development of Child Abuse & Neglect Laws, Introducing CPS & the Court Process and The Roles in a Juvenile Court Case
Chapter 3: Developing Cultural Competence
Diversity, Cultural Heritage, Personal Values, Culturally Competent Child Advocacy and Developing an Action Plan
Chapter 4: Understanding Families – Part 1
Family Strengths, Understanding Families Through Culture, Stress in Families, Risk Factors for Child Abuse & Neglect, The Impact of Mental Illness on Children & Families and The Impact of Domestic Violence on Children & Families
Chapter 5: Understanding Families – Part 2
The Impact of Substance Abuse/Addiction on Children & Families, Poverty – The Facts for Children and The Importance of Family to a Child
Chapter 6: Understanding Children
The Needs of Children, How Children Grow & Develop, Attachment & Resilience, Separation, Permanence for Children and Psychological & Educational Issues for Children
Chapter 7: Communicating as a CASA Volunteer
Developing Communication Skills, Communicating with Children, Dealing with Conflict and Understanding Confidentiality
Chapter 8: Practicing the CASA Volunteer Role – Gathering Information
CASA/GAL Volunteer Is Appointed to a Case, Planning the Investigation & Gathering Information, A Successful CASA/GAL Volunteer Interview and Investigating a Case
In addition to training in the classroom, our course also includes six hours of courtroom observation to give the volunteer a glimpse into what their role will be. It gives them a tangible look at how volunteers can make an impact. They see real cases, hear from all parties including CASA, and observe how CASA’s recommendations can lead to actions from the judge.
The final step in our pre-service screening and training is a second interview between the volunteer and the CASA trainer. This is again a one-on-one conversation that debriefs the volunteer and gives both the volunteer and staff a chance to discuss any concerns that may have come up during training. It also gives the volunteer a chance, now that they have been through training, to discuss what type of case they believe they would be most effective on. This can include factors such as ages of the children, type of abuse, location of child, other concerns and also areas they feel especially qualified.
After all of their hard work in training, totaling 40-42 hours over about a two month period, new CASA volunteers take an oath given by a judge in a swearing-in ceremony. The volunteer is now officially ready to be assigned to a case!
Next month, learn how CASA volunteers make a difference inside the courtroom and between court hearings in part six of our series, CASA is Appointed: How a judge involves CASA, the role of Guardian ad Litem, the CASA volunteer-supervisor team.
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!