The Invisible Struggle of Kids in Crisis
By Lucas Land
Any given day in McLennan County around 700 children are in foster care. Out of those, CASA has an advocate working with around 240 of them. CASA stands for “Court Appointed Special Advocate.” CASAs are volunteers assigned by the court to advocate for the best interest of the child or children in CPS cases.
Take a step back for a moment and remember what it was like to be a kid. What did you feel like in Middle School? What were your High School years like? Growing up can be difficult and awkward under the best circumstances. Now try to imagine being taken from your family after experiencing abuse or neglect. No matter the situation, this is traumatic. You are placed with relatives, a foster family, or a residential facility. Now add to that the time you have to spend in court, in meetings with lawyers, in interviews with CPS, medical visits, and so many other things that you probably never imagined having to do. Picture what it might be like going to school and trying to pretend like everything is fine, trying to get through a normal day weighed down by all that is happening in your life that often times no one knows about. You might not have anyone you can talk to or feel comfortable with. Trust is a scarce resource when your life is in upheaval.
These kids feel scared, alone, angry, nervous, and so many more emotions that come with the territory of dealing with family trauma and crisis. They need the things that all kids need, stability, supportive relationships, encouragement, and someone to listen. In these situations, these things are often in short supply. This is where CASA comes in.
Our volunteer advocates are empowered by the court and assigned to a case where they spend time getting to know the child or children involved. Their purpose is to gather information about the child/ children and the stakeholders in their life such as family of origin, foster placement, doctors, teachers, CPS workers, etc. All of this information is then compiled into a report for the court.
In order to do this well advocates have to build relationships with the child/children, their parents, and family in order to understand their needs. Part of this process includes just spending time with the child or children. Jose Muñiz describes his favorite part of being a CASA like this:
“Working with the kids and spending time with them is my favorite part of being a CASA. They speak to all of these authority figures and they don’t have time to be a kid. So, taking them out for ice cream or to the museum gives them time to just be a kid.”
CASA volunteers provide a consistent presence in a child’s life and work to ensure they are safe during their time in foster care. CASA volunteers also identify and address risks, work with supportive people in the child’s life, and ensure appropriate physical and mental health assessments are completed to ensure the child’s safety and well-being. They also make sure that educational assessments are completed and educational supports are in place. During a chaotic and difficult time in a family’s life while the child or children are in foster care these things can slip through the cracks and be forgotten. CASA advocates focus on the best interest of the child and help prevent that from happening throughout the process of their case.
Jose also shared this success from his first case, “My first case was with 9- and 6-year-old siblings. This was pre-COVID and I was able to spend time in-person with the kids. The 9-year-old was very active. One of the things we did that was fun was running a race together. We signed up for a Donut Dash. We ran a mile and then ate donuts. The success was them knowing that there was someone in their life that cared for them.”
There is a gap between those 700 children in foster care any given day and the volunteers we have who can be CASAs for them. Our goal is that every child who needs a CASA in McLennan County has one. In order to reach that goal, we need YOUR help. Please consider becoming a CASA volunteer and making a difference for children in our community who are going through a really difficult time. For more information you can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, call (254) 304-7982, or visit our website, http://casaforeverychild.org.
Lucas Land is the Director of Communication and Development for CASA of McLennan County. He loves living in Waco and finding ways to connect, get to know, and give back to this community. Lucas lives in the Sanger Heights neighborhood with his spouse, three kids, and their dog, Jayber.
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