Whether they are helping the child get the services needed, making a home visit or are simply there for the child through the good times and the bad, Court Appointed Special Advocates play a crucial role in determining the best interests of abused and neglected children.
Volunteers are needed to help such children, CASA of Williamson County Executive Director Alisa De Luna said.
CASA serves 587 children from birth to 18 years of age throughout Williamson County who have been abused, abandoned, neglected, sexually molested, are at-risk or who are victims of domestic violence.
The organization, which started in October 2009, currently has 20 volunteers, but thanks to a $15,000 donation by the Texas Bar Foundation, the organization will be able to expand the program.
“The idea is to protect abused and neglected children,” De Luna said.
Volunteers may come from all walks of life — stay-at-home moms, retirees, teachers, business professionals — and just have to be at least 21 years old, De Luna said. Volunteers just need to be willing to speak up for children who, through no fault of their own, have been placed in the foster care system.
Volunteers may be men or women, married or single, De Luna said.
“They need to have a big heart and a desire to help,” she said. “Anyone who has the heart and the time to help is welcome.”
Male volunteers, especially those of Hispanic or African-American heritage, are encouraged to sign up.
“Anyone can help anybody, but it’s always comforting (to the kids) to have someone of a similar background,” she said. “We’re always looking for men. We have boys out there who are in need of a positive role model.”
Once signed up, potential volunteers must be able to pass three background checks, she said. That does not mean anyone whose background includes past drug use or a criminal record is automatically disqualified, said CASA Volunteer Coordinator Amy Saenz. But, she added, the circumstances surrounding the situation matter.
“It’s all situational,” Saenz said. “It all kind of depends. How long ago did it happen? What was it? … Those who have had drugs or mental health issues, that experience may be very helpful.”
Once they have passed their background checks, volunteers must then complete in-depth training on the court process, child development, abuse and neglect and more.
Most CASA volunteers work one case at a time, she said. After they’re assigned a case, the volunteers conduct interviews to establish the facts and ultimately write a report of their findings and make recommendations for a permanent resolution of the case to the court.
Along the way, Saenz helps the volunteers navigate the system to best help the child.
“I’m there to bounce ideas off of, help navigate them through the court system,” she said. “Sometimes it helps to get another perspective of what is going on with the family, what is going on with the child.”
Receiving the donation from the Texas Bar Foundation will help tremendously, Saenz said.
“Our mission is that every child who comes into custody of the department has a (volunteer CASA),” she said.
Those interested in becoming a CASA volunteer may log onto http://www.casawctx.com, or call 512-868-2822.