CASA of Southeast Texas is gearing up for another year of advocacy for children suffering from a life of neglect and abuse.
With dwindling funding comes an increased need for Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs) and the money it takes to guide neglected children through the maze of Texas’ foster care system, especially since every neglected or abused child in Jefferson County is assigned an advocate from CASA of Southeast Texas.
“It costs approximately $1,000 above the funding that we’re already receiving to provide services for our kids,” said Patty Pittman of CASA of Southeast Texas.
To make up the funding difference, CASA is asking local businesses and individuals to make a yearly donation as part of their “I Am for the Child” campaign.
Each donation is 100 percent tax deductible, and for businesses, CASA offers the opportunity to be a named sponsor at every CASA event throughout the year for donations of $3,000 or more
Pittman said it’s hard to know what monies will come to CASA throughout the year. To mitigate this problem, the “I Am for the Child” campaign seeks to secure a definite amount at the beginning of the year to make sure children in Jefferson County get the services they need.
“Obviously all of the funding has been tight because of the economy,” she said. “People are just not able to give as much as they have in the past.”
In 2007, CASA served a little more than 200 children who had become wards of the state. In 2012, CASA of Southeast Texas served about 386 abused or neglected children in Southeast Texas, showing a steady rise in the number of children CASA serves each year.
Regardless of the steady increase in the number of abused or neglected children, CASA has been able to shorten the time children spend in the foster care system.
“We’ve been able to impact the amount of time that they’re staying in care,” said Executive Director Lanis McWilliams. “In other words, we’ve been able to help reduce that time that they’re staying in care and expedite getting them to permanence, which is our whole mission at CASA — that these children get a safe, permanent home in a timely manner.”
One such child, Pittman said, was a young girl who suffered from birth defects, which included a bad heart.
The young girl’s parents weren’t able to care for her health needs, Pittman said, and she needed an emergency heart surgery.
“Once she came into care, her advocate advocated for those health needs and really searched out somebody that would take responsibility for that and make sure she got the care she needed,” Pittman said.
After the surgery, the young girl is looking forward to a life she might not have had.
“They don’t feel like her heart defects are going to complicate any of her growth or anything that would have happened if she hadn’t had the surgery,” Pittman said. “It’s those kinds of needs that, if someone isn’t there to advocate for that child, their needs aren’t going to get met.”
Pittman said volunteering one’s time is just as important as donating money. CASA’s new round of volunteer training begins April 16 after a short interview and screening process.
For those children seeking stability and a loving family, now couldn’t be a better time to volunteer, Pittman said.
“It’s important that the community come together to help take care of these kids that have been neglected and get them into a place where they can thrive and become productive citizens,” she said. “Otherwise they become a burden on our tax payers. They don’t want to be in the system. We don’t want them to be in the system, so if we can have people who step up and volunteer and advocate for these kids... every individual can do something to help.”
As part of the campaign, CASA’s annual “Justice Is Served” dinner will honor Dr. Jimmy Simmons, Lamar University’s outgoing president. CASA will also be recognizing volunteer advocates at this event, which takes place Tuesday, April 23, at 6 p.m. at the MCM Eleganté Hotel in Beaumont. Call the CASA office at (409) 832-2272 or visit www.casasetx.org .