By Vicki Spriggs
Chief Executive Officer of Texas CASA
Over the past few months, we’ve been diving into a year in the life of a foster child told through the eyes of a young girl named Emily.
Emily has been removed from an abusive and dangerous situation, but she is far from “saved” now that she is in foster care. In addition to dealing with the trauma that comes from abuse, she is now struggling with feelings of grief and loss due to being suddenly taken away from the only home she’s ever known. Also, just a couple months into her time in state care, Emily has already undergone multiple placement changes and been forced to face scary new situations – new schools, faces, and places, and potential dragons around every corner.
Though her time in care has been difficult, Emily takes heart in the fact that she hasn’t had to face her dragons alone. Her CASA volunteer Maria has been by her side every step of the way. In addition to advocating for Emily’s best interest in court, school and other settings, Maria listens to Emily and understands her, providing a consistent, supportive adult presence that she can rely on during an otherwise very uncertain time in her life.
44 percent of children in our state’s foster care system, however, are not as lucky as Emily to have a dedicated advocate that they can trust. Over the course of April, for Child Abuse Prevention Month, CASA programs across Texas have been hosting events, reaching out to local media, ramping up grassroots recruitment efforts and more, with the goal of informing the community about child abuse and neglect and the urgent need for more volunteers to speak up for children like Emily.
Child Abuse Prevention Month is critical for raising awareness in our communities, but awareness in itself is not enough. The thousands of children who are going through the system without an advocate need more than just awareness. They need action.
Currently more than 10,000 volunteers strong and counting, the CASA network in Texas is taking action for nearly 30,000 children and youth. With a 14-percent increase statewide in volunteers recruited, nearly double the growth rate from 2016, we are growing faster than ever before.
We should be proud of what we’ve accomplished together, but we can’t get comfortable. One of my favorite sayings is “Only mediocre people are always at their best.” We still have a long road ahead to reach our goal of a CASA volunteer for every child in care, and it will take each of us stepping up our game to achieve this goal. We must continue to grow – but not only that, we must continue to get better every step of the way.
Awareness, while important, is only the first step of responsibility and accountability. Maybe you’re newly aware to the issues children in foster care face, or maybe you are already a member of the CASA community as a volunteer, staff or board member. No matter your role or level of involvement with CASA, we all are an essential part of the solution, so ask yourself: What will you do to go from awareness to action, this month and beyond?
Will you speak up for a child who needs you? Visit www.BecomeACASA.org to locate and contact your local CASA program, and take the first step towards becoming a CASA volunteer.
Will you tell a friend about our movement? Maybe this month is finally the time to sit down with that friend who you know would make an outstanding volunteer and tell them about your experience with CASA and why you think they’d be a great fit. You can get the conversation started by nominating them to become a CASA volunteer today.
Will you support the work we do? A donation to Texas CASA is an investment in the future of Texas’ children, and will help us continue our work with the local programs across the state to reach our goal of a CASA volunteer for every child. Make a gift.
Thousands of children just like Emily, who are in the system due to no fault of their own, are counting on us. We cannot and will not let them down.
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. If you see or suspect abuse, neglect or exploitation, report it to 1(800) 252-5400 or go to www.txabusehotline.org. If a child’s life is in danger, call 911.
Emily’s story, while fictional, is based on real-life situations that many children in the foster care system face. We are telling her story over the course of this year as her case progresses. Visit the Emily’s Story page to catch up on her story so far. Watch her short film, Emily’s Dragon, below.
If you are not currently involved with CASA, I ask you today to consider how you can play a part in making a difference in the lives of our most vulnerable children. Are you ready to take the first step towards becoming a CASA volunteer? Visit BecomeACASA.org to learn how you can speak up for a child who needs you. You can also support the work of Texas CASA by making a secure online gift that will benefit the local CASA volunteer advocacy programs across the state.