December 8, 2021
When a family is in crisis and becomes involved in the child welfare system, the children are often removed from their homes and placed in foster care, many times far from everyone and everything they know. This holiday season, CASA of Hill County urges the community to be mindful of the children who are spending the holidays away from those they love, and consider how you can help make a difference.
“December is meant to be a festive time to spend with your friends and family,” said Don Rawls, Executive Director of CASA of Hill County. “Too often, though, children in foster care must spend the holidays away from their family and home community, which can deprive them of many precious memories that can make the holiday season so special.”
This is where Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteers can step in and make the most impact. Appointed by a judge, CASA volunteers’ first priority on cases is to advocate for keeping families together whenever safe and possible. When that is not possible, CASA volunteers recommend that children live with another relative or close family friend to ensure that they can maintain connections to their family and community.
The following true story was written by a local CASA volunteer:
“I often hear people say that they could not imagine volunteering for CASA because the cases are so sad. And while it is certainly true that CASA work can be sad, it’s also very rewarding.
“My first case was one that we can all appreciate. Mom was heartbroken to lose her children and highly motivated to meet all her goals to have them returned to her. She worked hard at a new job to provide for the needs of her family and find a stable home for them. She went above and beyond her required counseling and built a community of support through the Celebrate Recovery program and a local church, and she walked away from relationships and influences in her life that were unhealthy.
“As she did, her children were well cared for in a loving foster placement who not only met the needs of the children, but were willing to offer support to this single mom as well. As the children’s CASA, I was able to build relationships with them as well as their foster family, and I spent many hours with mom while driving her to her visits with the kids and stayed in touch with her as she worked hard to accomplish her goals.
“The children were returned to mom and have adjusted well. Mom has been studying for a certification that will advance her employment opportunities and she continues to be a part of Celebrate Recovery. Her days can still be difficult as she works hard to provide for her family and resist any temptation to return to an old habit, but she has a community of support and that includes me. When she introduces me to someone today, she says ‘this used to be my CASA, but now she is my friend.'”
These children are now spending the holidays at home.
Stories like these are the reason why CASA volunteers are so imperative in the lives of children and families in the child welfare system. They need someone who can get to know them and their unique situation, advocate for them, and help ensure they are surrounded by caring people who will support them even after their case ends.
“CASA volunteers stand by children’s side while they are in foster care, providing a consistent presence and ensuring they are kept safe and their needs are met,” said Rawls. “They also help make sure children stay meaningfully connected with their families and communities.”
CASA volunteers get to know a child or sibling group on an individual level and speak with other important people in the child’s life, such as their parents and family, teachers, therapists, foster parents and more. With the information they gather, they develop a holistic understanding of their circumstances and needs, and make recommendations to the court. They advocate first for family reunification whenever safe and possible. They also help find and engage family members and other adults who can serve as a network of support for the child and their parent or parents.
“Each year, more children enter the foster care system and don’t get the opportunity to spend the holiday season at home with their loved ones,” Rawls said. “We need more members of the community to step up and get involved. You can make a difference this holiday season.”
Consider becoming a CASA volunteer to look out for a child and give them and their family a better chance at a brighter future – and the happy holiday season they deserve. To learn more, visit http://www.casaofhillcountytexas.org or visit the office at 66 West Elm Street in Hillsboro.