As part of March’s National Social Work Month celebration, CASA in the Heart of Texas recognizes and appreciates the social workers, advocates and others who devote their careers to bettering the lives of others.

According to the National Association of Social Workers: “Social workers understand that relationships between and among people are an important vehicle for change. Social workers engage people as partners in the helping process. Social workers seek to strengthen relationships among people in a purposeful effort to promote, restore, maintain, and enhance the well-being of individuals, families, social groups, organizations, and communities.”

Social workers strive to build a stronger community for all people, and CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates®) is a proud partner in the effort to create a brighter future for children and families involved in the child welfare system.

“Social workers are the lifeblood of the child welfare system, from caseworkers, to therapists, to child placing agency staff,” said Michelle Wells, Executive Director of CASA in the Heart of Texas. “Collaboration and partnership are key values in the social work field, and we share those values here at CASA.”

CASA volunteers with CASA in the Heart of Texas are community members who are specially trained to advocate for children in foster care. They work with the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) and other key child welfare advocates and professionals to ensure that the children they serve are safe and well. They get to know the child and speak with everyone involved in the child’s life, including their parents, family, caseworker, foster parents, therapists and others, so that they can make informed recommendations to the court about the child’s best interest.

One specific way CASA volunteers and caseworkers in Texas are working together to improve the lives of children and their families is through Collaborative Family Engagement (CFE), a statewide Family Finding partnership with DFPS that creates and strengthens supportive lifetime networks around children and their families. Studies have found that one of the strongest indicators of child well-being is the number of present, caring and reliable adults in the child’s life. With CFE, CASA volunteers, DFPS staff and others work together to build an adult support system for these children and their families – consisting of family members, family friends, teachers, mentors, neighbors, coaches and others – that will last even after the case is closed.

“CASA volunteers’ primary focus is family reunification for the children they serve whenever safe and possible,” said Wells. “Working together to create and strengthen a supportive network for children and their families helps increase the likelihood for sustainable reunifications to happen.”

As CFE is rolling out across Texas, the child welfare system is also undergoing major statewide reform – reform that will require more communication and collaboration between CASA, DFPS and other groups than ever before. In 2017, the state began transitioning to Community-Based Care, a sweeping system transformation that is gradually shifting foster care and case management services from the state to private, nonprofit contractors. Region 2, in which Brown and Comanche counties fall, has been in this transition since December of 2018 with more changes scheduled to occur in June of this year.

“As Community-Based Care rolls out across the state and more and more agencies get involved, we see a lot of opportunity – both to forge new relationships and strengthen current ones,” said Wells. “In the spirit of National Social Work Month, CASA in the Heart of Texas and our dedicated volunteers will continue to focus on the strengths of those we serve – in every conversation, every new partnership we forge, every action and every case.”

“You don’t need to be a social worker to be a CASA volunteer,” stated Joanne McCraw, Recruiter/Trainer for the program. “You just need to have the desire to make a difference and the understanding that resilience and the power to change come from strong, healthy relationships – just like our colleagues in the social work field.”

For more information about CASA and what CASA volunteers do, visit www.BecomeACASA.org or www.CASAbrownwood.org or call 325-643-2557. The next CASA 101: Information Session in Comanche is 5:30 p.m. March 26 at Mattdaddy’s on the courthouse square and in Brownwood is 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 7 at 901 Avenue B. Please call 325-643-2557 if you plan to attend a CASA 101 near you.