The Power of One Caring Adult: CASA
By: Sherri Gragg
On an average of 54 times each day in Texas, a traumatized child who is the victim of abuse and/or neglect, is separated from everyone and everything he or she knows to enter the foster care system. For weeks, months, and even years, the child will gather his or her few belongings in a trash bag and transition in and out of foster homes. Guardians, teachers, friends, attorneys, social workers, and judges will float in and out of his or her life with alarming regularity.
But if he or she is very lucky, there may be one caring adult who never changes- a Court Appointed Special Advocate. A CASA worker.
What is CASA?
CASA is a national volunteer organization committed to advocating for children suffering from abuse and neglect. CASA workers are appointed by judges to be the eyes and ears of the court, and to advocate for the best interest of the child. Once a CASA worker has been assigned to a child’s case, he or she will remain with that child until he or she is placed in a safe, permanent home.
An army of 10,424 Texas CASA workers valiantly served a little more than half of the 50,293 children in foster care in 2017. The numbers speak for themselves- there is a desperate need for CASA workers in Texas.
Three TAC Women Making a Difference
“Our CASA office is responsible for three counties, two of which are very poor,” said Coldspring UMC CASA volunteer Terry Cook. “It is hard to get people to volunteer.” Cook, the president of her local CASA board, says her church is deeply committed to supporting foster kids through CASA. Each of the church organizations, such as UM Men and UM Women, supports CASA financially.
The church is also active in raising awareness about the need for CASA workers, making regular pleas for more workers and hosting CASA 101, an informational and recruitment event, and ensuring that there is always a sign in the church foyer expressing the need for more advocates.
CASA worker Joni Lunsford says Canton FUMC is another strong supporter of CASA in the Texas Annual Conference. “CASA approached the church about having a satellite office there because it is located in the county seat and where the children have court,” she said. “Canton FUMC has been very generous by allowing us to use a room as our office, as well as hold trainings and other community events at the church. The congregation has helped provide food and gifts at Christmas for children. The members of Canton FUMC have opened their hearts to support CASA and the children of Van Zandt County.”
After retirement, Kay Fenn, wife of District Superintendent Marlin Fenn, began to look for a new way to give back to her community. CASA was a perfect fit. Her first assignment was to a brother and sister who were living in separate placements. “Their situation has been a tragic one,” Fenn said. “My role is to maintain contact with them and to represent their best interest in court. I see them at least once a month and stay in touch with their Child Protective Services (CPS) worker, their lawyer, and my CASA supervisor. I attend school Admission Review and Dismissal processes (ARDS). I also check in regularly with their foster parents and case managers in their placements. I am able to be a constant presence for kids who do not really trust adults to be constant.”
Fenn, Lunsford, and Cook all agree that the constancy of a CASA worker can make all of the difference in the lives of children for whom everything else is falling apart. They also are joined in the hope that more churches in the Texas Annual Conference will join them in support of CASA. “These are children who have no one else to speak for them,” Cook said. “They tend to get lost in the system without someone to represent them.”