Ann Strauser Palmer, Legislative Advocacy Coordinator, has been with Texas CASA since October 2018. Ann entered the child welfare field in 2006, when she began working for the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS). As Legislative Advocacy Coordinator, Ann works with local CASA programs and their Legislative Advocacy Teams (LATs) to advance policy and legislation that will improve the lives of children.
Tell us about your background.
I was born and raised in Austin, Texas. I went to college in North Carolina at Davidson College and then to law school at the University of Houston Law Center. After law school, I returned to Austin, married my wonderful husband, and worked for the Texas Legislature in the House for the 79th Legislative Session. I moved over to the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) in December 2006 and was there for eight years.
Several years ago, I took some time off to be a stay-at-home mom to my two boys. When it felt like time to go back to work, I wanted to be sure to do something that felt meaningful. When the Texas CASA job showed up, it seemed like it was meant to be!
How did you get involved with Texas CASA?
I had a relationship with Texas CASA through my work with DFPS. When I started at DFPS, I worked in a government relations role and moved then into a broader external relations role. In that capacity, Texas CASA was always a strong presence and an important partner. In working with Texas CASA on legislative issues and policy development, I learned to respect their work enormously.
What is your role here at Texas CASA?
I am the Legislative Advocacy Coordinator. This means I am the point of contact at Texas CASA for all of the Legislative Advocacy Teams (LATs). I’m in charge of growing that important network of advocacy teams and supporting them as they advocate on a larger scale for children in the child welfare system.
What does the future of your work look like?
This year one of my goals is to grow the LAT network, but even more to get the word out about what we do and what programs can do to advocate with the legislature. I would like to get out there and meet everyone face to face, so I’m going to be doing that this interim as we conduct regional trainings. We are working on training and recruitment resources for LATs as well. We want everyone to understand how important it is to be a voice at the legislature for children.
What do Legislative Advocacy Teams do?
LATs build relationships with the legislators in their districts and hometowns. When it’s time for session, LAT members help the CASA network communicate our policy concerns and priorities to legislators. Legislators are not interested in hearing from lobbyists particularly; they want to hear from their constituents. I think that with our giant volunteer network we are uniquely positioned to have a strong voice at the Capitol, and the LATs lead that effort.
Why are Legislative Advocacy Teams beneficial to local programs?
I think that they are a great way to build relationships in the community and raise awareness, not just at the legislature, but also at home. When you’re reaching out to your legislators and their staff, it motivates volunteers too because they’re getting a broader sense of what’s happening in child welfare in the state. I think it’s really empowering to have a voice in the policy-making process and be aware of what is going on at the legislative level.
What does CASA mean to you?
Working with this advocacy organization is so exciting, because you have volunteers who are so giving of their time and are making a difference every day in children’s lives. It’s genuinely exciting to be on this side of the child welfare system and see all the amazing work that this group does. It’s heartening to see how much people are willing to give of themselves to help children and families.
What would you say to programs you’re working on behalf of?
First, I want to say, “Hello!” I want people to know how eager I am to meet them and work with them and how excited I am to be a resource to them. I hope to get to know our local CASAs well, and I want people to feel free to reach out to me for help with legislative advocacy. I want our CASA programs and volunteers to understand how excited I am to be a partner in this work!