I need to vent today. I am in a class to be a CASA volunteer. CASA stands for Court-Appointed Special Advocate, or here in San Antonio, it means Child Advocates of San Antonio (lucky how that works out). CASA volunteers are assigned the Child Protective Service cases where children have been removed from a home due to abuse or neglect. CASA volunteers speak for the children; we are the voice of the children, help determine what is in the best interest of the children, write court reports, representative the wishes of the children, and generally provide the constancy through the children’s lives while they are in a year of foster care. We are taking a 33 hour course before we are swore in as volunteers in Family Court. We have court-appointed authority to deal with the children’s service providers, their parents, school records and health records–anything that will help us represent that child in court.
Yesterday was one of the most frustrating days I have ever had in a class. I am usually a tolerant person, but there were so many people in this class who have no understanding of the legal system. They think that if there are bruises on a child, a police officer can lock up the parents and they go to trial and get punished for abusing a child. They had no understanding that police don’t prosecute cases. The District Attorney decides which cases go to trial, and abuse has to be really bad for the DA to prosecute the case, because they are dealing with gang-bangers, murders, rapes, DWI deaths, and a million other cases. There is only so much a DA can do with the money and staff they have. When children are removed from a home for abuse or neglect, it is a civil case and the ADA prosecutes the case in Family Court. Nobody goes to jail; the children are removed and the parents must complete a service plan in order to get their children back.
These people in this class could NOT get it through their thick skulls that the police don’t prosecute cases. They judge whether there has been a violation of the penal code, and can arrest people, but it is up to the DA to prosecute or not. A child death–yes; serious injury–yes. Less serious abuse and neglect–no. There are not resources available to prosecute all these cases. All that can be done is to remove the children and get the parents to clean up their act to get their kids back. It’s not a complicated concept. But at least 10 people out of 25 were outraged and could not understand why the police could not “do something.” We wasted over an hour on this topic and the presenter did not explain well the idea of prosecuting a case and the DA’s responsibility. I blame the presenter as well as the ignorance of my fellow classmates.
It’s sad that children are abused and neglected, but not all (or even most) parents can be prosecuted for these atrocities. CASA volunteers are not police officers; we come into a case after the children are already removed from the home. We speak for the child and try to encourage parents to work their service plan. These people had a bias against the parents and were afraid of dealing with the parents. Most parents are very cooperative because they want their kids back. They aren’t criminals; they’re just screwed up. And why these people could not understand that is beyond me. I think they’ve been watching too many episodes of Law and Order: SVU. I hope this doesn’t continue throughout this class.
Today we had a class on culture and values and some of these people are really rigid in what they think should be. Life isn’t perfect. We all just do the best we can. Maybe they will get real further on in the classes. Maybe not. I can only hope.