Each May, National Foster Care Month, we take the time to raise awareness of the children and families involved in the foster care system and the need for more people to step up to serve children in the Texas foster care system.

In Fiscal Year 2019, 325 of those children were from right here in CASA in the Heart of Texas’ service area (Brown, Comanche, and Mills counties).

“We would like to extend our wholehearted thanks to foster families, relative placements, child welfare professionals, judges and volunteers who devote themselves to the support of children who have experienced abuse and neglect,” stated Michelle Wells, Executive Director of CASA in the Heart of Texas. While 99 of the children in care during FY 2019 were served by CASA, 226 vulnerable children and youth in our area did not have a Court Appointed Special Advocate because of the shortage of available volunteers.

“With everything our world is facing right now, it might be easy to forget about these children and families and what they’re going through,” said Wells, “but they need support from their community now more than ever.” With COVID-19, the system is facing even more difficulties and challenges, and typically domestic violence and child abuse worsen/increase during times of disaster and isolation. If you’ve ever thought about becoming a foster parent or a Court Appointed Special Advocate, now is the time.

Children go into the foster care system when their family is in crisis. There is a common misconception that these children are safe when they’re in foster care, and no further help for them is needed. This could not be further from the truth, Wells said. Foster care is important for protecting children temporarily. It is not, however, meant to be a permanent solution.

“We’re grateful to the many wonderful foster families who open their homes to children in our community. What some people don’t understand, however, is that too often, these children have been taken away from everything and everyone they know,” Wells said. “Research shows that kids do better when they can stay connected with their family and community, and kids in foster care are no exception.”

This is where CASA volunteers, or Court Appointed Special Advocates, from CASA in the Heart of Texas come into play.

CASA volunteers are specially trained and appointed by judges to advocate for a child or sibling group while they are in the foster care system. They advocate for the child in court, school and other settings; and get to know everyone involved in the child’s life, including their parents, foster parents, teachers, doctors, family members and others.

CASA volunteers advocate first and foremost for these children to be reunified with their parents whenever safe and possible. In fact, a core part of their role is to help create and strengthen a lifetime network of relatives, family friends and other committed adults who can support the child and their parents during their involvement with foster care and beyond – increasing the likelihood for reunification.

When reunification is not an option, they advocate for the child to live with another relative or family friend. They can also advocate for the child to be placed in a loving adoptive home. In all cases, CASA volunteers are a steadfast, consistent presence for the children they serve, making sure they are safe and have the resources and connections they need to grow and thrive.

CASA in the Heart of Texas is always seeking more community members to become CASA volunteers, and with the current health crisis, the need is even more urgent, Wells said.

“The COVID-19 crisis is affecting us all, and children and families involved in foster care are no exception,” she said. “Like the rest of us, they’re facing things like increased stress, physical and mental health risks, reduced access to goods and services, and social isolation. They need someone on their side, who can help them feel safe and connected, now more than ever.”

CASA in the Heart of Texas is making the safety of their CASA volunteers, and the children and families they serve, their number-one priority through the duration of this crisis. Volunteer information sessions, interviews and pre-service trainings have moved mostly online. In addition, volunteers are currently completing their advocacy duties remotely – visiting children and families via phone or video chat and attending court online.

“We are committed to continuing to advocate for children and families through this crisis while ensuring their safety and the safety of our volunteers,” Wells said. “We hope you’ll consider joining the CASA movement.”

For more information on becoming a CASA volunteer and other ways you can get involved, visit www.CASAbrownwood.org or call 325-643-2557.

Staff is in the office at least part of the day, at this point, and messages are being checked and returned promptly. Follow CASA in the Heart of Texas on Facebook to stay up to date on activities and related information.

“Applications are accepted on our web page as are requests for more information,” stated Joanne McCraw, Recruiter/Trainer for the program. “If you know someone who would make a great CASA volunteer, nominate them at www.NominateaCASA.org.”