Community support goes a long way for CASA

Every day in Southeast Texas, another child is thrust into the court system, though they’ve done nothing wrong. Some of the circumstances that bring the youth into that situation are neglect or abuse at the hands of those who are supposed to be loving guardians, but every case is different. What doesn’t seem to change is that all across the U.S., there aren’t enough volunteers to step in and help the children through the difficult process ahead of them. But organizations such as Advocates for Children Inc., a CASA Program, try to help as much as possible.

According to information on file with CASA, last year in the United States, more than 500,000 children were in foster care or institutions at an average annual cost of $16,479 per child. In Texas alone, each social worker carried an average caseload of 50 children. Each child without a CASA representative, or court appointed special advocate, spent an average of 24.2 months in multiple placements in the foster care system.

But advocates try to give a more one-on-one experience for the children they serve, getting to know the child in order to look after the best interest of the child. Advocates for Children is a nonprofit organization consisting of volunteers who advocate for abused or neglected children in Orange, Newton, Jasper, Hardin, Sabine and Tyler counties. The children they serve are generally placed in foster care by the courts, and a CASA is assigned to familiarize themselves with the child’s case and report to the court what is in the best interest for this child. It is serious and needed work, with the agency’s 40 volunteers currently tending to 242 children in 158 separate cases. While the judges review all the information they receive to decide the future placement of a child, a CASA representative is always working with the child to seek a safe, permanent placement for their charge.

To become a CASA volunteer, participants must go through at least 30 hours of intensive training, be certified by a judge and commit to work at least 10 hours per month on a child abuse or neglect case for a least one year. A volunteer must be at least 21 years of age, submit to CANRIS and criminal checks, and complete an extensive application, which allows the organization to check references. Volunteers should be committed and diligent in their efforts for these at-risk children. Jane Stephenson, executive director of Advocates for Children Inc., said she would welcome any interested CASA volunteers, as the agency is now registering for its next training class. More information on becoming a volunteer can be obtained from the CASA office at 2120 Gloria Drive in Orange, or by calling the office at (877) 586-6548.

“The program is always seeking volunteers,” Stephenson said. “No matter how many we have, it never seems to be enough.”

Court Appointed Special Advocates of Southeast Texas Inc., based in Beaumont, is also actively seeking volunteers. Volunteer coordinator Wendy Frederick said CASA of Southeast Texas can be reached at its 2449 Calder Ave. address or by phone at (409) 832-2272. Serving Jefferson County and other nearby areas, the Southeast Texas CASA program will be registering for volunteer classes in April.

The funding

Making a lasting impression on the life of a youngster can pay off many times over, for both the child and the adult who puts forth the effort. Unfortunately, not every child has an adult mentor looking out for their best interests, and that makes what the CASA volunteers do on a daily basis needed – and appreciated. But in order to train the volunteers into becoming what they need to be, funding is necessary.

In these economic times, federal and state funding has dwindled but enterprising volunteer agencies such as Advocates for Children and Southeast Texas CASA have stepped up to the plate to secure community support for the programs.

In “Tee it up for Tom and The Kids 2012,” CASA of Southeast Texas orchestrated the annual Tom Mulvaney Memorial Golf Tournament on Monday, March 19, at the Beaumont Country Club. Dozens showed up to support the cause, with all the proceeds benefiting the local CASA program.

“Judge Mulvaney saw the possibilities in everyone. Though wise enough to know how a case would likely end, he offered sincere encouragement to CASA’s children and their parents, never giving up hope. Judge (Mulvaney) had dreams for the future of children in CPS care that a parent would have for his own children. His positive attitude was a blessing to us all,” recalled Randi King, Family Law Division Chief of Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office, of the namesake’s legacy.

Advocates for Children Inc. also had a recently successful fundraiser wherein the annual Chili’s Pancake Breakfast, held in Orange, drew in customers from all over the Golden Triangle. Stephenson said a total of $6,000 was raised that one morning, with all the proceeds going to provide training for new volunteers.