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CASA renews call for volunteers to work as advocates

Special to the Bulletin
Ann Jones

Children of Brown, Comanche, and Mills County Have Immediate Need for Volunteers to Serve as Court Appointed Special Advocates with CASA

This Spring, the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) published statistics from fiscal year 2019. For the three counties that CASA inthe Heart of Texas serves (Brown, Comanche, and Mills), there were 112 children removed from their homes and placed in the conservatorship of DFPS. A total of 325 children were “in care” during the year in our counties, of which CASA in the Heart of Texas was able to serve 99. That means there were 226 children that did not have a Court Appointed Special Advocate to stand with them, be their voice, and advocate for their best interest, because there were not enough volunteers available to take the cases. CASA in the Heart of Texas believes that we can and must do better.

Ann Jones, a nurse practitioner, is the newest Court Appointed Special Advocate with CASA in the Heart of Texas. Jones was was sworn in by Asssociate Judge Cheryll Mabray on May 26 via Zoom.

A Court Appointed Special Advocate is a caring adult, over the age of 21, who has passed screening and background checks, gone through an interview process and been specially trained to work with children and families in crisis. They spend a significant amount of time with their CASA child/children getting to know them and assessing their needs, but that is not all they do. They also spend time with the parents/families building a rapport, gaining information about their child’s situation, encouraging, monitoring, and assessing what will be in the child’s best interest.

While working a case, a CASA will also monitor the progress and well-being of their child in their placement, in their school, with their medical and mental health providers, as well as staying in contact with their caseworker, attorney ad litem, and others,advocating for the needs of that child wherever and with whomever necessary. The CASA, in addition to all the things mentioned, provides a consistent adult presence in the lives of these children, which is invaluable. Sometimes, with changes in placements, schools, and caseworkers, the CASA becomes the one constant during a time of great anxiety, grief, loss,and confusion.

According to Michelle Wells, Executive Director for CASA in the Heart of Texas, being a CASA volunteer is like “the Navy SEALS” of volunteer work. The time commitment is 12 – 18 months, with volunteers averaging 10-20 hours per month. The work is more intensive than many other volunteer opportunities and comes with the opportunity to deeply impact lives.

CASA in the Heart of Texas is trying to grow the volunteer corps large enough to meet the need of the children of our area. “We are looking for 15 potential volunteers to step up right now to begin the process of becoming a CASA,” stated Wells. Applications and instructions concerning first steps are on our website, www.CASAbrownwood.org. Staff would be happy to talk with anyone who may be interested or have questions at 325-643-2557.

A potential volunteer might also consider attending a CASA 101: Information Session the first Tuesday of the month at 6:00 PM, 901 Avenue B, Brownwood (the Community Connections of Central Texas building on the corner of Avenue B and Austin Avenue). In Comanche, CASA 101 is held on the forth Thursday, 5:30 PM at Mattdaddy’s on the square. (Please RSVP to 325-643-2557 or to Joanne@casahot.org by 5:00 PM the Wednesday before if you plan to attend.) If you know someone who would make a great CASA, you can nominate them at NOMINATEaCASA.org.

“We are seeking help from the whole community in getting the word out to those who would be fierce advocates for children,” stated Joanne McCraw, Recruiter/Trainer for the program. “If you have or know of a business where a flyer could be placed, a group or organization where we could speak, or other means to help us get the word out, we would invite and appreciate all help in making those contacts.”

CASA in the Heart of Texas has some advocates who are married and work as a team. The same could be arranged with family members or friends who want to partner up and work together. We need men, as well as women, to come forward to serve. Most men have no idea how much children (both boys and girls) need to see appropriate men interacting with children and youth, being fierce advocates for them, protecting them, and showing them that there are good men who care.“

Volunteers are needed from diverse ethnicities and races, backgrounds, and faiths. CASA’s children are not all the same, and the volunteer corps shouldn’t be either, McGraw said.

“There are a number of things we’d like to call your attention to during the month of June,” McCraw said. “June is when we celebrate Father’s Day, and by extension all men who nurture, support, provide good examples for, and impact children in a positive way. Many children do not have such a father or father figure in their lives.”

A male CASA has an opportunity to make a huge difference to these children. June is also National Reunification Month, in which we celebrate the families who overcome their difficult situations to a point where children can be safely reunited with them. If a child can be returned safely to their own family, people and community, research has shown this to be their best chance for permanency.

As we think further about unification and reconciliation, the hope of CASA in the Heart of Texas is that our country will also achieve reconciliation and true equality for all its children; on this note we remember June 19th (“Juneteenth”), when we celebrate the end of slavery in the United States. We support those who experience inequality and injustice and will continue to uplift justice and equality in all we do.

June is also Pride Month, and we would like to express our commitment to support and serve all children, because each one is precious. Often LGBTQ youth are in the system because of family rejection, in addition to the typical reasons, and face all the hardships of other youth in the system plus many more.

“The children of our community who have been removed from their homes deserve to have a Court Appointed Special Advocate by their side, to be their voice, to advocate for their best interest,” stated Wells. Please don’t wait if you can help. The need is now. The difference you can make in the life of one child or family can ripple out to the whole community for generations to come. Please consider whether now is the time to become a CASA and consider engaging a friend to come along with you. Every child has a chance – it’s you.