Texas lawmakers headed to Austin on January 13, 2009, they will be challenged with many unmet needs raised by the voices of those facing tough economic times. We hope they don’t let the noise drown out the needs of the smallest, most vulnerable Texans—whose only voice in court is often a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer.
At 14, Steven not only had been abused and neglected at home, but after being removed from home, he spent years bouncing between foster homes and residential treatment centers. The plan was for Steven to turn into a self-sufficient adult by age 18 and to live on his own, but that didn’t seem likely.
It was at this point that a community volunteer named Tom was appointed by a judge to serve as Steven’s CASA. Tom made sure that everyone involved in the case understood that Steven deserved and still hoped for a permanent home. After finding a great foster mother for Steven, Tom met every month with her and with social workers to figure out how to best transition Steven into her home. Tom stood up in court and explained to everyone that this child needed a safe, permanent home, and he made sure Steven got one.
That’s one success story among the more than 47,000 children that passed through the Texas foster care system last year. Here in Mason, Menard, McCulloch and Kimble counties, Bluebonnet CASA recruits, trains and supports volunteers to serve as CASAs to the more than 65 foster children in our community.
But, we only have enough volunteers for about 49% of the children in CPS custody in our area. Indeed, less than half of all the foster children in Texas have a CASA volunteer to stand up for them in court. That just doesn’t make sense for the children or for taxpayers.
Research shows that children with a CASA volunteer are substantially less likely to spend a long time in foster care, defined as three years or longer. And, when a CASA volunteer is involved, a child is less likely to move from home to home, and they are less likely to re-enter the foster care system once they find the right home.
CASA is a good investment for Texas children and for taxpayers. The Texas Senate Jurisprudence Committee recently recommended that the Legislature increase state funding to help recruit and develop more CASA volunteers, reasoning that “The child protection system and courts depend heavily on Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteers to provide effective and efficient ... services for children in CPS cases.”
If the Legislature provides additional needed funds over the next two years, CASA can provide volunteers to an additional 4,000 children who need a CASA to guide them to a safe, permanent home as well continue to provide advocacy for the over 20,000 children a year currently served.
Times are tough and lawmakers can’t fund everything. But children in CPS custody are the State’s children. They are our children - there is no choice but to help them. The numbers make the case for increased state funding, but the most important number is 1 - that one child, like Steven, who may not find a permanent home unless they have a CASA volunteer fighting for them.
Nancy J. Holt, Executive Director