Today I start my class for volunteering for CASA (Court-Appointed Special Advocates) for children who have been abused and/or neglected and are now in the court system, along with their families. I did this work several years ago in Austin, Texas. It is not easy work to work with children who are no longer in their homes due to abuse or neglect. But I was a caseworker in Children’s and Family Services in NY many years ago and it is my first love. Someone needs to speak for the children, and that’s what CASAs do. They are the advocate for the child, legally the guardian ad litem (GAL). So what we report to the court holds a lot of wait. Right now in our country we have over 1,500 children in the foster care system and only 1/3 of them have CASAs. We find out everything we can about the child and his.her family, foster family, school, etc. We are committed to one family of children through their entire time in court, usually a year to 18 months, before the court decided if they can go home or should be placed for adoption. We are usually the only consistent person in the children’s lives during that time, as caseworkers come and go and burn out and their lawyers have caseloads of 40-50 children each. We have one family to care about.
I have to go through the training for San Antonio, as it’s a bit different from Austin in how they do things. I will go to class 3 days a week for 3 weeks, then be sworn in by one of the judges. We have to be sworn in because we have a legal position. The course is usually very thorough and covers a lot of material about children and the court system.
Nearly every county or large city has a CASA organization and functions independently. My family had dealings with the CASA in Oklahoma City and it was a nightmare, since they use DPS troopers as CASAs to gathered more information on parents and families. They were so corrupt; we nearly lost the children to the state of Oklahoma, even though my brother was just driving through the state with his girlfriend’s two children and didn’t have his papers. He is white and the children are African-American. So well-meaning citizen turned him in for kidnapping the children. The case went on for 9 months until they were returned to NY, and suffered through a foster mother who neglected and abused them until the CPS couldn’t ignore it any longer. It cost our family thousands of dollars to get them back. So my brother has a poor view of CASA due to the corruption in Oklahoma City. I pray that they are the exception rather than the rule. That’s not what I experienced in Austin and I had a difficult case with 6 children and 3 different fathers (one deceased) and the mother was really working her program to get off drugs and get her kids back. They ended up a happy story. But some don’t. Some parents won’t do the work to get their kids back. And it’s so sad.
So wish me luck in my coursework. I also start grad school next week and have orientation tonight. I’m doing a lot at once. I hope I can keep up. Please keep me in your prayers.