Maria McCord is a Collaborative Family Engagement (CFE) Coach for Texas CASA. She was born and raised in El Paso, Texas and has more than 20 years of experience working with children in foster care and nonprofit organizations. She has her bachelor’s degree in human services as well as her master’s degree in business administration, and is in the process of completing her master’s degree in social work.
Tell us a bit about your background.
I began working at the local runaway shelter, and after receiving my bachelor’s in human services, I worked with organizations that specialized in mental health intellectual and developmental disability services (MHMR), homeless shelters, then eventually CPS. I worked for DFPS for nine years, most recently as a Master Investigator where I trained and mentored other investigators and resolved stale cases. I traveled all around Texas working in different regions to train, mentor and close cases.
How did you get involved in the CASA cause?
I worked alongside CASA throughout my early career and always admired the care, concern and diligence they took with each child they were assigned to. I viewed them as a valued partner and consulted with the advocates regularly. Their perspective and dedication to the children we serve was invaluable. I knew that I wanted to be involved more directly with the mission of CASA, so being involved with CASA was a natural choice.
I have been involved with CASA as a partner in other organizations for over 10 years and more recently on the statewide level as a Texas CASA CFE coach supporting Region 9/10.
Tell us about your role as a CFE Coach.
I have the privilege of working with CASA of El Paso, CASA of the Permian Basin Area, CASA of West Texas and Children’s Advocacy Center of Tom Green County and their corresponding CPS partners. I am a remote employee and travel to other assigned CASA programs and CPS offices.
CFE works towards engaging family and other members of the community to provide connections and support to children in foster care. These connections extend to the parents and/or guardians involved with CPS. My main role is to coach and train volunteers, CPS staff and CASA staff to engage the family and allow the family to support the child in whatever capacity they can. I also support the programs in their work by training staff on the principles of CFE and Family Finding, using tools and working together to find the best outcome for the child and their family. When I’m not traveling, I am usually conferencing with my programs, consulting on cases, video conferencing with my fellow coaches and answering emails.
Why is CASA meaningful to you, personally?
As a former foster child, I understand firsthand how children can feel lost in the system and not heard. I remember my CASA advocate, Rebecca. When she visited me, I always felt valued. I knew she would advocate for me in court and would come back with news on my case. She was assigned to me until she passed away while I was still in care. She always encouraged me to go to school and always showed compassion and concern. Her intervention and dedication inspired me to work with children in foster care.
I have a passion for children in care, and it is in Rebecca’s honor that I do this work.
What is your favorite part about your job?
My favorite part of my job is working with CASA and CPS staff who are just as passionate about their work and strategizing on how we can have better outcomes for the families and children we serve. I love being a part of a team and watching the team work collectively to resolve a case. Every day offers new opportunities to connect children to family members and to help a family heal.
What’s a CFE success story you’d like to share?
I have so many, but one of my favorite stories involves a family that has had several cases with CPS in the past, including a removal of an older child. The children, under the age of 2, were secluded and not connected to family. Family support was difficult, as the family was angry and burned out from the repeated cases. The team strategized on how to engage the family and bring them to family meetings, working diligently to get family to meetings and to offer support to both parents who struggled with drug use and domestic violence. The family trusted the team enough to come to the meetings and eventually began to commit to support the parents and bond with the children. They began to visit with the children and to hold the parents accountable for missed appointments.
The parents turned the corner and began to engage with the services offered. They began drug treatment while their family visited with their children. The parents have been clean for over eight months and have been able to be reunified with their young children. The family on both sides came together to support the parents in their healing and now are bonded to each other. This case is scheduled to be closed with a successful reunification of the family. The parents had not been able to complete services in their previous cases, and the professionals were skeptical of success, but at the last meeting, the professional staff stood and applauded the parents for their hard work.
The family requested another meeting, just to check in with everyone and to celebrate their sobriety!
Why is CFE so important?
Connections are the core of healing for children and families involved in the foster care system. Many children age out of the system only connected to the professionals involved, and end up searching for their biological family on their own. We know that healing happens when we are connected and have healthy supportive relationships. CFE works to give that to the children and family involved in the system. Building a lifetime network that the child can rely on after being in care is vital to them becoming successful, and that is the ultimate goal of CFE.