Sept. 15 marks the beginning of National Hispanic Heritage Month, a time to celebrate the culture and traditions of U.S. residents who trace their roots to Spain, Mexico and the Spanish-speaking nations of Central America, South America and the Caribbean.

 

During Hispanic Heritage Month, we recognize and honor the history, culture and contributions of the Hispanic community. For many Hispanic children growing up in the foster care system, however, it can be challenging for them to identify with their culture. That is why CASA in the Heart of Texas is asking for more Hispanic and bilingual members of the community to become CASA volunteers (Court Appointed Special Advocates) and speak up for Hispanic children in the foster care system.

 

When children are uprooted from their homes due to abuse or neglect and placed in foster care, they are often not only separated from their families, but also from every other part of their lives like their church, school and community. What’s more, their foster families may have different cultural values, which can further deter them from learning about and celebrating their heritage.

 

“It is not uncommon that a child in foster care will be placed in a home that does not speak their primary language or hold their same cultural beliefs,” said Michelle Wells, executive director of CASA in the Heart of Texas. “They need someone they can relate to; someone who can comfortably and effectively communicate with them and advocate for their best interests.”

 

CASA volunteers are everyday members of the community who are trained and appointed by judges to advocate in court for children who have been abused or neglected. They form a relationship with the children and become acquainted with everyone involved in their lives, such as parents, teachers and therapists, so that they can make informed recommendations to the court. Their goal is to ensure these children are safe, their needs are met and their voice is being heard while they are in foster care.

 

“We currently have 21 volunteers, two of which are bilingual,” stated Joanne McCraw, Recruiter/Trainer for CASA in the Heart of Texas. “More are definitely needed.”

CASA in the Heart of Texas is always seeking volunteers of all demographics, but Hispanic and bilingual volunteers are urgently needed due to the large number of Hispanic children in the foster care system. In Fiscal Year 2018, 21,890 of the 52,397 (42%) of the children in DFPS care statewide were Hispanic. In the three counties served by CASA in the Heart of Texas, over 30% of the children in care were Hispanic. “There is a crucial need for more Hispanic and bilingual volunteers for these children, said McCraw.

 

“While all of our volunteers are prepared to advocate for any child, it’s ideal for our volunteers to reflect the children they serve because they may be better able to trust and open up to someone who shares similar customs and experiences,” said Wells. “We hope it will allow them to form a bond that will result in better advocacy for their unique needs in court, school and other settings.”

 

It is CASA in the Heart of Texas’ goal, and the goal of the greater CASA community, to grow to provide a CASA volunteer for every child in the foster care system, giving them a better chance at a brighter future.

 

“Our volunteers are extraordinary people who speak up for children in foster care,” said McCraw. “This Hispanic Heritage Month, we hope you will consider making a difference for children who have been abused or neglected by becoming a CASA volunteer, contacting us to present information at groups, organizations, or churches where the Hispanic community is well-represented. We welcome diversity, and our children need it.”

 

Join CASA in the Heart of Texas for their next information session on October 1st at 901 Avenue B, Community Connections of Central Texas. To learn more, visit www.casabrownwood.org or www.BecomeACASA.org, speak with staff at 325-660-8374, or go to CASA In the Heart of Texas on Facebook and like the page to see upcoming events and activities. CASA 101: Information Sessions are held the first Tuesday of each month at 6 p.m. at the CCCT building at 901 Avenue B.