Help create a happier holiday season for children in foster care and their families
The holiday season is in full swing, but it’s different this year for all of us. While we all may be missing some of our “normal,” these holidays that typically help bring people closer together can be especially difficult for children and families involved in the child welfare system, who are not able to spend this time together.
When a family is in crisis and becomes involved in the child welfare system, the children are often removed from their homes and placed in foster care, many times far from everyone and everything they know. This holiday season, CASA in the Heart of Texas urges you to be mindful of the children who are spending the holidays away from those they love and consider how you can help make a difference.
“December is meant to be a festive time to spend with your friends and family,” said Michelle Wells, Executive Director of CASA in the Heart of Texas. “Too often, though, children in foster care must spend the holidays away from their family and home community, which can deprive them of many precious memories that can make the holiday season so special.”
This is where Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteers can step in and make the most impact. Appointed by a judge, CASA volunteers’ first priority on cases is to advocate for keeping families together whenever safe and possible. If that is not possible, CASA volunteers recommend that children live with another relative or close family friend to ensure that they can maintain connections to their family and community.
Take this true story for an example of the impact of CASA volunteers. When three young siblings were placed in foster care, there was little chance that they would return home to their mom, Crystal. She was estranged from her family and had minimal resources; and after her children were removed, she found herself alone when she needed support more than ever.
But CASA volunteers John and Jenifer believed in her. John, Jenifer and the caseworker reached out to some of Crystal’s family members for support. It was a long road, but with CASA and the caseworker’s help, Crystal’s support network went from a few in the beginning to a strong network of family and friends.
With this newfound support, Crystal went above and beyond in completing the state’s requirements for her children to return home. She got her own apartment, a full-time job and embraced the family supporting her and the kids.
Today, Crystal and her kids are enjoying a routine as a reunited family. They get to spend the holidays at home together, creating new, happy memories.
Stories like these are the reason why CASA volunteers are so imperative in the lives of children and families in the child welfare system. They need someone who can get to know them and their unique situation, advocate for them, and help ensure they are surrounded by caring people who will support them even after their case ends.
“CASA volunteers stand by the children’s side while they are in foster care, providing a consistent presence and ensuring they are kept safe and their needs are met,” said Wells. “They also help make sure children stay meaningfully connected with their families and communities.”
According to the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS), in fiscal year 2019 there were 51,417 children in foster care in Texas – 264 from Brown county alone. CASA in the Heart of Texas is challenging more members of the community to become a part of the solution by becoming a CASA volunteer.
CASA volunteers get to know a child or sibling group on an individual level and speak with other important people in the child’s life, such as their parents and family, teachers, therapists, foster parents and more. With the information they gather, they develop a holistic understanding of the child’s circumstances and needs, enabling them to make best interest recommendations to the Court. CASAs advocate first for family reunification whenever safe and possible. They also help find and engage family members and other adults who can serve as a network of support for the child and their parent or parents.
“Each year, so many children enter the foster care system and don’t get the opportunity to spend the holiday season at home with their loved ones,” Wells said. “We need more members of the community to step up and get involved. As you think about giving this holiday season, think about the difference you could make as a CASA.”
Consider becoming a CASA volunteer to look out for a child and give them and their family a better chance at a brighter future and the happy holiday seasons they deserve. To learn more, visit CASAbrownwood.org, like CASA in the Heart of Texas on Facebook, and/or call 325-643-2557 to speak personally with a CASA staff member. You are also invited to join us for Coffee with CASA, a small gathering of friends at the CASA offices, 901 Avenue B, Brownwood on Tuesday, December 15 at 9 a.m. to learn more about our mission and the needs of children and families during this holiday season.
Joanne McCraw is a recruiter/trainer at CASA in the Heart of Texas.