A judge overseeing the fate of a child who has been removed from an unsafe home won’t always have all the information he or she needs. There can be tragic — even fatal — consequences to the child if the judge, lacking some crucial detail, sends the child back to a place where harm continues.
Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) are volunteers appointed by judges to fill in the blanks so judges can make the best decisions for foster children. CASA volunteers spend considerable time with the children for whom they advocate. They interview everyone involved in the child’s life — biological family members, foster parents, teachers and doctors — to provide crucial, real-time information to the judge about what is in the child’s best interests. A CASA volunteer often knows more about the child than anyone else in the courtroom, including the attorneys, Child Protective Services caseworkers, even the judge.
For that reason, the Texas Legislature helps fund the infrastructure that supports CASA volunteers. These special unpaid advocates work closely within the legal system and follow the scared and confused children through the entire process. They are often the difference between finding a safe permanent home and allowing harm to continue.
In 204 Texas counties – including Mason County – more than 6,600 Court Appointed Special Advocates gave significant volunteer hours to speak up for nearly 21,000 abused or neglected children in the foster care system last year.
Unfortunately, fewer than half the children in foster care have CASA volunteers. As a result, those children are at greater risk of being returned to dangerous homes and suffering additional abuse and neglect.
Texas’ lawmakers have a choice: Intervene early or see some of these children later — those who survive to adulthood — in the criminal justice system. The cost for the latter is a far higher price in terms of human suffering and taxpayers’ dollars. The solution is clear: Continue to support the growth of CASA volunteers so that eventually the gap is eliminated
"From the very beginning to the very end of every foster child’s case, Bluebonnet CASA volunteers provide the court critical information to help make the best decisions for our children and ensure their best possible future." Judge Rob Hofmann- Child Protection Court of the Hill Country
Legislators are justifiably scrutinizing every tax dollar for its value. While their historical support of CASA volunteers is an investment with a proven return, they face tough choices about where to spend our tax dollars.
The lethal combination of already imposed across-the-board cuts and an economic climate that strains families sounds painfully similar to 2003. The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services already are reporting significant numbers of abused or neglected children coming into foster care.
On behalf of the 44 children served by Bluebonnet CASA, I urge our elected officials in the Legislature to do what is in the best interests of children whose parent is now the state of Texas: Make the safety and health of our most vulnerable children the highest priority, including taking us one step closer to a CASA volunteer for every foster child.
Jenna Jacoby is Executive Director and Lisa Goehmann is Child Advocate Director of Bluebonnet CASA, which served 44 abused or neglected foster children in Mason, McCulloch, Menard, and Kimble counties. Bluebonnet CASA is a member of the Texas CASA network which has programs serving abused or neglected children in 204 Texas counties. If you would like to show your support please write to: Senator Troy Fraser 1920 N. Main St. Suite 101, Belton, TX 76513; Representative Harvey Hildebran 125 Lehmann Drive, Kerrville TX 78028.