In 2017, two teenagers were forced to live in a Child Protective Services office in Houston because there was nowhere else for them to go. They escaped the offices, and 10 hours later a mini-van struck them as they walked along the side of the road. One of the girls died at the scene. She was 15.
The trauma that those teens faced is all too common. In response to a growing crisis for Texas’ foster care system, many changes have been made to CPS. However, there’s one East Dallas-headquartered organization that focuses solely on the well-being of children when they are placed into state custody and make their way through the system: Dallas’ Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA).
In 2016, 1,726 children were removed from their homes in Dallas County, resulting in 4,626 total children in foster care or other placements that year. CASA recruits volunteers to follow these children and defend their rights until they reach a safe home. In 2017, CASA advocated for 3,100 children, double the amount served annually a decade ago.
are removed from their homes each day because
of abuse and neglect.
In 2017, CASA had
14 % increase
over the previous year.
counties in the state.
Source: Texas CASA Impact Report
CASA provides volunteers with 30 hours of training, support and guidance as family courts assign them a case to follow. Volunteers learn about state custody, child protective services, the court system and how to recognize signs of abuse.
White Rock area mother-daughter team Patti and Courtney Capshaw are just two of the many CASA volunteers working for children. Patti is a retired lawyer, and Courtney finished law school last year before her current job required a temporary break from volunteering with CASA. Both spent their free time visiting the child assigned to them by the family court.
In addition to visiting the child where the state has placed him or her, the Capshaws took the child on fun outings while asking about his or her living situation. They also spoke with teachers, arranged for medical care and prepared court reports to help make recommendations about the child’s future placement.
CASA volunteers work with the courts, CPS and the placement family to make sure the child is cared for. “CASA has an opportunity to get to know the child a lot better than CPS,” Courtney says. “We are appreciated because we are bringing a lot of information to the table that they couldn’t get.”
The Capshaws found that the courts take their recommendations seriously. “They respect CASA,” Courtney says. “Our one job is to advocate for the child and we are the only player that is solely focused on the child. Judges understand that and take it into consideration.”
The volunteer job can be equally important, fulfilling and emotional. Sometimes the kids are placed in homes that volunteers consider unsafe, which is especially difficult after spending so much time with a child in such a precarious situation.
Volunteers need to be patient and persistent, with a capacity to navigate the system and the passion to serve needy children, says Dallas CASA Executive Director and President Kathleen LaVelle. “You can’t compare this volunteer opportunity to any other in the immediate impact you can see,” she says. “People realize they were born to do this.”
For the Capshaws, working together on CASA cases helped them persevere through what can be heartbreaking situations. “It is so important for us to be a team,” Patti says. “We can talk about the case to each other and provide emotional support.”
How to help: While Dallas CASA added volunteers in recent years to serve 70 percent of children in the state system in Dallas County, the organization always needs more advocates. Learn more at dallascasa.org.
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