Everett Carmody is the current president of the board for the Travis County (Texas) Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) organization (www.casatravis.org). Counties across the country have CASA volunteer organizations some more successful than others. Here in central Texas we are blessed with some of the best in the nation. These volunteers play a very important role in the lives of foster children. Please take a moment to read this interview and learn about CASA. You just might decide this is how you want to invest in the life of an at-risk child.
What is a CASA volunteer?
A CASA volunteer is a trained community member who is appointed by a judge to represent the best interest of a child or family of children in the court system. Volunteers spend an average of 15-20 hours a month advocating for these children for at least a year. They get to know the child while also gathering information from the child’s family, teachers, doctors, care-givers and anyone else involved in the child’s life.
CASA volunteers serve as the guardian ad litem, an official representative in a Child Protective Services (CPS) case entitled to access information about the child’s situation and required to make reports to the court in the child’s best interest. CASA volunteers speak for what is in the child’s best interest while the attorney ad litem speaks on behalf of the child’s wants or preferences – often these two opinions differ with serious potential consequences. (from CASA of Travis County FAQs)
What does CASA do?
CASA of Travis County believes every child who’s been abused or neglected deserves to have a dedicated advocate speaking up for their best interest in court, at school and in our community. To accomplish this, CASA educates and empowers diverse community volunteers who ensure each child’s needs remain a priority in an over-burdened child welfare system. (from CASA of Travis County FAQs)
Have you served as a CASA volunteer?
Yes, I have served as a CASA volunteer. The first case I was assigned to involved four little sibling boys ages six, four, two, and five months. All of the children were already in the child welfare system and had been taken away from their mother and everything familiar to them. Confidentiality prevents me from getting into more specifics, but I am very pleased to tell you that all of the boys have been adopted by terrific families and are doing well. These boys now have a bright future.
Why did you become a CASA volunteer?
I had participated in various CASA fundraising activities over several years and at one of these events a former foster child, now an adult, spoke about how important and impactful his CASA had been in his early years in the child welfare system. I followed up with CASA, and they were terrific at explaining how a CASA gets to help change the direction of a young child’s life. I was hooked to learn more.
What are some challenges and reward of being a CASA?
In my particular case, the rewards were many but what brings me the most joy is the fact that I got to help break the generational cycle of a family for who it was somewhat normal to have their kids in the child welfare system. Also, I got to experience the tearful joy of seeing the boys stand up in court and tell the judge that they wanted to be adopted by their forever family.
With respect to challenges, it’s none other than getting fully up to speed on the history and background of the case and meeting all of the various parties involved. The judges, lawyers, CPS workers, teachers, counselors, medical professionals, etc. are very accepting of CASA that this does not take much time.
What difference does CASA make for children recovering from abuse or neglect?
- Children with CASA volunteers are more likely to end up with family. Of the 641 children’s cases closed with the help of CASA last year, 52% were reunified with their parents and 22% were adopted by or live permanently with relatives.
- A study by Texas Appleseed, “Improving the Lives of Children in Long-term Foster Care,” reports that “If a child has a CASA, the CASA usually is the only person who truly knows the child and knows how the child is really doing.”
- National CASA reports that children with CASA volunteers are more likely to receive therapy, health care and education, more likely to do better in school, less likely to be bounced from one place to another, less likely to get stuck in long-term foster care and significantly more likely to reach safe, permanent homes.
- A CASA volunteer is often the child’s only link to maintaining family connections and can be instrumental in identifying family members as temporary or permanent placement options.
- Most importantly, children themselves report that they know and can rely on their CASA volunteers.
(from CASA of Travis County FAQs)
How does someone become a CASA volunteer?
Volunteers complete a screening interview, background and reference checks, and 39 hours of intensive training and courtroom observation. After being sworn-in by a judge, volunteers are appointed to a child or family of children and spend an average of 15-20 hours a month advocating for these children for at least a year. Prospective volunteers must be at least 21 years of age, and must pass extensive reference, Child Protective Services, sex offender registry and criminal background checks. (from CASA of Travis County FAQs)
Ready to advocate for a child who needs you?
To find a CASA organization in your area go to CasaforChildren.org.