Judge Steve Ellis administered the Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Oath to two new volunteers this month. Brian and Denise Imiola of Comanche pledged their oaths on February 14th after completing rigorous background checks, going through the interview process, and completing the Pre-Service Volunteer Training Class of CASA in the Heart of Texas. “Both Mr. and Mrs. Imiola are retired military officers with a passion for service and children,” stated Joanne McCraw, Recruiter/Trainer for the program, which serves Brown, Mills and Comanche counties.

CASA in the Heart of Texas recruits, trains, and supports volunteers from the community who do best-interest advocacy in cases where children are removed from their homes due to abuse/neglect and are in the care of the Department of Family and Protective Services.

Premier Volunteer Opportunity

CASA is a premier volunteer opportunity, and many volunteers stay and serve as Court Appointed Special Advocates for multiple years. “When I came to CASA as Recruiter/Trainer, I was thrilled to see the longevity of some of our volunteers,” stated McCraw. “One had been serving for 13 years, and there were others who had served for 8, 6, 4, 3, and 2 years, as well as some who were more recent additions. The ones who stay for extended periods are keenly aware of the privilege that they have of being able to enter into the lives of children and families in crisis and the opportunity to make a lasting difference in those lives. “The first week I started my job, we went to the Annual Texas CASA Conference in Galveston. I saw volunteers there who had been advocates with CASA for 28 years. This past year, I must’ve seen some of the same ones. The one with the most longevity as a CASA had 30 years, with others right behind at 29 and 28 years!” stated McCraw. “I think this testifies to the quality of this volunteer opportunity.”

One of the great things about being a CASA volunteer is the importance of the work they do. A CASA gathers information about the child or children of the case from many sources including the child - with whom they spend a significant amount of time, the parents, other family members, the caseworker, the school or daycare, medical/health providers, and mental health/behavioral providers. The advocate observes the child during their own interaction with them as well as at visits between the child and their parents or others; they communicate on a regular basis with all of these people, as well as the attorney for the child. Then the CASA takes all that information and synthesizes it into a report for the court that details the important points, concerns, and recommendations for the best interest of the child.

There are a lot of moving parts when a child is in care. One of the important things a CASA does is making sure that a child does not fall through “the cracks” in the system. And while a CASA’s defining advocacy work is to the court, advocacy goes on in every arena of the child’s life. The CASA volunteer is the child’s advocate at school, in their placement, with their medical and mental health providers, with their family, and anywhere else such advocacy is needed. The advocate brings a perspective which is independent of the system, one which is only there because of their concern for the child. These volunteers also bring consistency and longevity, sometimes being the only face the child recognizes after changes in placements, schools, and oftentimes caseworkers. Every single case is different, but each offers challenges and opportunities for an advocate to grow their skills. CASA volunteers often acknowledge that these situations/opportunities also cause them to grow as a person. Just going through the training class is often eye-opening and challenging to volunteer trainees, spurring changes in perspective that will stay with them throughout their lives.

“The Navy Seals” of Volunteer Work

“We often refer to being a CASA volunteer as ‘the Navy SEALS’ of volunteer work,” stated McCraw. “Advocacy as a CASA volunteer requires a minimum commitment of 12-18 months, with an average of 10-20 hours worked per month.”

The idea is not just to check boxes or meet minimum standards but to give a child or sibling group the best shot possible at permanency (a safe, nurturing, permanent home),” emphasized Michelle Wells, Executive Director for the program. “We want to minimize the time a child is in the system in care and maximize their chances to thrive.”

If this sounds like an opportunity you would like to learn more about, please contact CASA at 325-643-2557 or visit casabrownwood.org.