The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services has released statistics for fiscal year 2018, which ended August 31, 2018. In Texas (FY 2018):
• 211 children died from abuse/neglect.
• There were 66,382 confirmed victims of child abuse or neglect.
• Almost every 8 minutes, a child became a victim of abuse or neglect.
• 20,685 children were removed from home due to abuse or neglect.
That’s 56 children entering the foster care system each day.
• A total of 52, 397 children were in the child protective system.
In Comanche County there were 25 removals (more than a 200% increase from FY 2017), 50 children in conservatorship (custody of the state/DFPS), 5 children waiting for adoption, and 3 adoptions consummated.
Brown County had 106 removals (the first decrease from the prior year since 2013), 295 children in conservatorship, 40 children waiting for adoption, and 33 adoptions consummated.
Mills County had 7 removals (an increase from 2017), 12 children in conservatorship, one child waiting for adoption, and 2 adoptions consummated.
Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) programs have been around since the first one began in Seattle Washington in 1979. They came about to help judges in child protective cases gain an objective perspective and children gain best interest advocacy. CASA in the Heart of Texas was founded and incorporated in Brown county in 2000, largely as the result of the efforts of District Judge Stephen Ellis and members of the community who engaged to help him in this endeavor. In the early part of 2001, an executive director was hired, the first volunteers were trained and sworn-in, and began working cases. What cases, you may ask? The cases of children who had been removed from their homes due to the finding of abuse/neglect by the court, severe enough to warrant such a drastic measure. Eventually, enough volunteers were recruited and trained to serve almost all of the children coming into care in our area (which was expanded in 2002 to include Mills county and in 2003 to include Comanche county). Unfortunately, something happened along the way. In 2019, less than half of the children coming into care are afforded a Court Appointed Special Advocate to stand up for them and their needs.
To be perfectly honest, the work of a CASA is not an easy one. It’s never easy to see a child hurt, traumatized, experiencing grief and loss the way these children do. And it takes a bit of discipline, at times, to get past the knee-jerk reactions we feel toward the parents/caregivers who have let these children down and hurt them so that we can proceed in a more objective state. It takes commitment to stay on a case from the beginning to the end so that the child always has at least one caring adult as a constant in their lives throughout this ordeal (though caseworkers and placements may change repeatedly before they are again in a safe, permanent, nurturing home). A CASA must have patience to sit in court waiting on their child’s case to be heard while there are so many other things they have and need to do. Then, of course, they spend a lot of time building a relationship with their child/children, keeping in contact with the parents, the foster parents, the school, the therapist(s), staying informed of the child’s medical appointments, medications, treatment, check-ups, and monitoring their progress at school. A CASA is involved also in ARD (special education) and other meetings at school and at service planning meetings at Department of Family and Protective Services. Each contact they make requires documentation. CASAs keep their CASA staff member informed of their work and have meetings to plan and process what is happening in the case. Then, after doing all the work, making all the contacts, doing the required documentation, they process it all into a report for the court complete with their concerns and recommendations for their appointed child/children. They attend the court hearings and testify about the best interest of their child. For all of this, they receive no pay of any kind. There is absolutely nothing they hope to gain out of all this work, out of their presence in court except to represent the best interest of their appointed child.
CASA in the Heart of Texas keeps recruiting volunteers, but for several years the number of children removed each year and placed in substitute care kept spiking upward far beyond the number of volunteers we could recruit and train. Even though many of our volunteers stay for years longer than their original commitment and take additional cases, we have not been able to keep up. Some volunteers are not able to stay indefinitely because of health, age, moving, and other commitments that take precedence.
We have lost three volunteers from Comanche county in the last couple of months. And not everyone is really able to be a CASA, but I think many more are able than ever step up and try.
Perhaps it is because they are afraid of dealing with children in the system, or maybe they are afraid of working in the system itself. Some people truly do not have the time, and some don’t want to give up time out of their leisure. Some are afraid of dealing with the family or the other professionals, while some are afraid of the documentation required and of writing the dreaded court reports. Current volunteers want to tell these folks that they will have training to help them with these things, and that they will have the support of staff to help them learn to make those contacts, even to help them write those reports.
In fact, most of our volunteers were probably also afraid on many of those counts before they started. Somehow, though, they felt a call/a need that they could not deny. They took a step. They asked for more information or attended a CASA 101 informational meeting. They filled out an application. They took another step and completed the training. They could have turned back at any of a number of points, but they didn’t. They kept going because of the need of a child…that they had not yet even met. That’s faith. That’s courage. And that’s what we’re looking for as we publicize the need for volunteers. Someone who will take the first step in order to meet a need.
The next Pre-Service Volunteer Training is scheduled to begin the week of March 18th. All applicants are screened and interviewed prior to being accepted into the training class. If someone is interested in being a part of this class, their application is needed immediately.
The most recent group of CASA in the Heart of Texas’ volunteers were trained and sworn-in as Court Appointed Special Advocates in February 2019 by Gary L. Banks, Associate Judge of the Child Protection Court for Brown, Mills (and several other) counties.