HELP A CHILD–BECOME A ‘CASA’
By LORETTA FULTON
It may be tempting to say it’s too hard or too emotionally demanding to volunteer to work with traumatized children.
But before pleading that as an excuse, remember something that a professional has to say, someone who works with those children every day.
“They don’t have a choice,” Rebel Taylor said during an Oct. 16 program at First Central Presbyterian Church. “They have to live with it.”
Rebel Taylor speaks during an Oct. 16 program at First Central Presbyterian Church. Taylor is advocate and events director for the Big Country Chapter of Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA).
Taylor is advocate and events director for the Big Country Chapter of Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) for children. She and two volunteers, Sally Shelton and Lauren Partin, were guest speakers for the program at First Central, where both Shelton and Partin are members.
Taylor has been with CASA since 2016 and on staff since 2018. For a long time, Taylor County was the 71st county in Texas to add a CASA program, Taylor said, but now another county has added a program. There are more than 1,000 chapters nationwide.
Being a CASA volunteer isn’t for everyone. It requires 35 hours of training spread over three weeks. And that’s after passing several deep background checks and verification from references. After passing the background checks and completing training, the volunteer is sworn in by a judge.
But being a CASA volunteer also requires an intense desire and ability to work with children who have been removed from their homes by the state’s Child Protective Services and who are living in foster care.
“We don’t replace anyone,” Taylor said. “We collaborate together.”
For more information on becoming a CASA volunteer, go to http://www.bigcountrycasa.org, or call Rebel Taylor at 325-677-6448.
The next session begins Jan. 9. Trainees will meet Mondays and Thursdays through Jan. 31 and on Saturday, Feb. 1.
This auxiliary organization serves in a support role to the advocates, the children, and the staff of Big Country CASA. For more information or to sign up, go to http://www.bigcountrycasa.org and click on “Volunteer” at the top, then scroll down to “CASA Friends.”
The program is growing rapidly in Taylor County. In 2015, CASA had 22 advocates in the county and they served 44 children. In 2018, three years later, those numbers had jumped to 92 advocates and 303 children served. The number of removals has increased dramatically, too, from 113 in 2014 to 462 through mid-October this year, due mainly to drug abuse, Taylor said. Also, there is more reporting now than in the past, and children are drug tested now.
Taylor County currently has 122 advocates but more are needed, especially men. CASA has partnered with Big Brothers, Big Sisters to engage in a campaign to recruit more male volunteers for both programs.
The work requires spending time with the child who is in CPS care. The CASA advocate serves as extra eyes and ears for the judge overseeing the case. The county is so overburdened with cases involving children that the state added a new Child Protection Court, which heard its first cases on Sept. 3.
The work of a CASA volunteer includes visiting regularly with the child and attending court sessions involving that child. Each volunteer is assigned to help one child or set of siblings at at time. It can be emotionally difficult, but the reward is great. Taylor told about working with a 2-year-old girl who had been sexually abused. The child’s mother had held her back, wanting her to be declared handicapped. The traumatized girl wouldn’t speak and stumbled when she walked. After five months, she showed vast improvement, Taylor said, with the care of foster parents and Taylor working as her advocate. The little girl is now 7 and doing well.
“And I’m still Auntie Rebel,” Taylor said.
CASA volunteers are protected by law as long as they don’t act out of malice or willful negligence, Taylor said. And, they have support of staff at the CASA office. An auxiliary organization, CASA Friends, also provides support.
“You’re not by yourself,” Shelton, one of the volunteers, assured.
Partin, the other volunteer who spoke For the Oct. 16 program, wore a T-shirt that visually explained the important mission that volunteers serve–and the lofty position they hold.
“I’m a CASA: What’s Your Superpower?”