CASA in dire need for volunteers for area foster children
The release of the movie “Instant Family” depicts the story of foster children and a couple that decides to take an active role with these children whose family home life is no longer an option.
With that movie as a backdrop, CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) is working hard to recruit new volunteers for Matagorda County children that are in the foster care system.
“We represent these children in court,” said Marian Bullard, recruiter and trainer for CASA serving Brazoria, Matagorda and Wharton counties. “We meet with these children and we are their eyes, ears and their voice in court. We want to speak to what the child wants and use our best judgment for what is best for the child.
“We meet with the judge and we give them an opinion of what is best,” Bullard said. “Our opinion is extremely important to the judge.”
When a child enters the foster care system because his or her home is no longer safe due to abuse or neglect, a judge may appoint a committed volunteer to advocate for the best interests of the child or youth and other settings.
These advocates conduct an independent investigation by reviewing all pertinent documentation and records and interview the child, parents, social workers, foster parents, teachers, therapist, daycare providers and other relevant persons to determine the facts and circumstances of the child’s situation.
These advocates spend a significant time getting to know the child and gain his or her trust. They work to determine the thoughts and feelings of the child and seek solutions to achieve resolution of problems and to foster positive steps toward achieving permanency.
Bullard said when a child first enters the foster care system, the first option is to find a placement for the child with family.
“If that is not possible, then they have to go to foster care where they can be adopted out,” Bullard said.
In Wharton and Matagorda counties alone, there are more than 100 children in the foster care system and presently there are not enough volunteers available to serve as advocates for these children.
“We are in dire need for volunteers to step up and be advocates for these kids,” Bullard said. “We need each child in the system to have an advocate to speak for them. We can’t have that — we need volunteers.”
Bullard said she has received a positive response from Catholic churches in the region, including Our Lady of Guadalupe in Bay City.
All advocates or CASAs are volunteers and receive no monetary or material compensation. The reward comes from helping a child find a happy, safe home — helping to make a difference in a child’s life.
All CASAs have to be over the age of 21 and pass extensive criminal and CPS background checks and go through extensive 30 hours of training and then are sworn in by a judge since they are court-appointed and they must commit for one year to support a child.
Bullard stressed that being a CASA volunteer does not require any special education or background but simply the desire to help abused or neglected children find a safe and permanent home.
“We need the volunteer to commit just four hours a month to these children,” Bullard said. “That is not very much when we consider how much time we spend on our phones or watching movies — its one hour a week for a child.”
“It might seem like a lot in the beginning but once the training is complete, it really is not that much time invested in the program,” said Pamela Cano, assistant to Bullard.
Along with the need for CASAs, Bullard said there is also an urgent need for foster homes in Matagorda County as well.
Cano stressed that one big misconception about CASA is that they are Child Protective Services and that is not the case.
“You will never bring a child home with you,” Cano said. “CASAs will always visit the children in their homes.”
Bullard became involved with CASA more than a year ago and describes it as a “God-thing.”
“I told God no so many times about taking this job but He told me I needed to do this,” Bullard said. “And that is how bad the need is for this.”
Bullard said that CASA volunteers save children’s futures and taxpayers’ money by helping children find safe, permanent homes as soon as possible.
Cano said right now there is also a big need for men to step up and serve as CASA volunteers as well.
“Some of the little boys in the program want to work with men only,” Cano said. “We need all races to step up and help us.”
Bullard said if someone feels they can’t serve as a CASA, then maybe they would consider being a friend of CASA.
“Those are people that donate to CASA and right now we are in need of toys and money to help make sure these children have a great holiday season,” Bullard said.
Bullard said she needs the Matagorda County community to step up and help these children that might be their neighbors or a child that lives down the street from them.
“I cannot stress the urgent need we have at this time,” Bullard said. “I need people to believe in what we are doing and come out and support us. It takes a tribe to take care of these children. It takes all of us pulling together to place these children in a safe environment.
“They deserve an opportunity to thrive just like us,” Bullard said. “You are helping the children of our community by serving as a CASA volunteer. We just need to come together as a community to help these children who have been abused and neglected in their homes. I would ask that you pray on it because we need you.
Those wishing to gain more information are urged to visit the website www.becomeacasa.org. or call 877-894-CASA. There are 71 CASA programs in 207 counties in Texas or contact Bullard directly at 979-240-1398.