CASA – Court Appointed Special Advocates
Providing Advocacy for Abused and Neglected Children
In 2011, approximately 1,750 children were in the care of Child Protective Services in Travis County after experiencing abuse or neglect often by the very people who were responsible for protecting them. These numbers show little sign of slowing. With the system stretched thin already and budget cuts causing Child Protective Services caseloads to become even heavier, more and more children are in need of an advocate who can be a powerful voice for in the court system.
CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) of Travis County is stepping in to fill a critical void by matching trained community volunteers with cases and providing the individualized attention the children deserve.
Advocating for Children in Need
CASA of Travis County believes every child who’s been abused or neglected deserves to have a dedicated advocate speaking up for their best interest in court, at school and in our community. To accomplish this, CASA educates and empowers diverse community volunteers who ensure each child’s needs remain a priority in an over-burdened child welfare system. When the state steps in to protect a child’s safety because the people responsible for protecting them have not, a judge appoints a trained CASA volunteer to make independent and informed recommendations and help the judge decide what’s best for the child.
CASA volunteers complete an interview, background checks and 33 hours of intensive training. After being sworn-in by a judge, volunteers are appointed to a child or family of children and spend an average of 20 hours a month advocating for these children for at least a year. They get to know the child while also gathering information from the child’s teachers, doctors, care-givers and anyone else involved in the child’s life. Judges highly value CASA’s recommendations which help them make informed decisions in the child’s best interest.
Making a Difference One Child at a Time
With the support of the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation and other funding partners, approximately 81 percent of children in the Travis County child welfare system had the advocacy of CASA in 2011. CASA currently has a volunteer force of more than 550 volunteer advocates. In the 2011 grant year, CASA closed 562 cases, an increase in closures from 2010 when CASA closed 408 cases. A recent study by Texas Appleseed, “Improving the Lives of Children in Long-term Foster Care,” reports that “If a child has a CASA, the CASA usually is the only person who truly knows the child and knows how the child is really doing.” National CASA reports that children with CASA volunteers are more likely to receive therapy, health care and education, are half as likely to spend time in long-term foster care and that much more likely to end up in a safe, permanent home. The committed service of a trained CASA volunteer makes a real difference to a judge who can depend on CASA for a well-researched recommendation on the child’s needs and to the child who has a consistent adult to count on during such a difficult time in their lives.
Court Appointed Special Advocates – Outlook
With CASA advocates playing a crucial role in lives of children who’ve been abused or neglected, the organization is looking to expand their volunteer base. It is CASA’s vision to provide a trained volunteer advocate, a safe home and a promising future for 100% of children in the local child welfare system. For the 81% of children they are currently serving, CASA means having a home instead of feeling lost, and being a priority instead of feeling invisible. For volunteers, CASA is a life-changing experience that makes our community a better place.