2020: A Year in Review

By Vicki Spriggs
Chief Executive Officer of Texas CASA

Dear CASA Community,

Recently, I got to thinking about one word or phrase that would best sum up 2020 to me. You might think pandemic, loneliness, social distancing. But the word I landed on was growth.

Not what you were expecting? Other words like whirlwind, unprecedented, and even “Zoom” were in the running… but after a while, I started thinking about it in terms of my Texas CASA family and the statewide CASA community, and that’s when growth became clear.

I’ll explain. First, I’d be remiss if I didn’t first acknowledge that this year has been hard on all of us. It has been, and continues to be, a time of immense challenge, societal conflict and change. Amidst it all, though, I’ve seen steady and continued growth in the CASA community. Growth in volunteers, of course—we celebrate that today and everyday—but I’m talking about growth in knowledge; growth in commitment to justice. Growth in our collective compassion, service and understanding that has only gotten stronger over the course of a difficult year.

Starting back in March, in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the local CASA programs amplified and adapted their work to be able to continue effective advocacy for the best interest of children. Programs of all sizes went virtual for their information sessions, volunteer training, swearing-in ceremonies and other events. The 11,000+ CASA volunteers across the state—volunteers of all ages, backgrounds and talents—adapted to using videoconferencing and other technology to connect with children, participate in the legal process and keep in contact with families. Veronica made sure the child she serves didn’t miss out on celebrating her birthday despite physical distancing. Dwight helped reunite two brothers with their father in Mexico, facilitating almost the entire process over Zoom. Oscar continues to help the teen he serves feel safe to express her full self.

To each and every CASA volunteer, staff member and board member who has so wonderfully adjusted to physically distanced advocacy and operations over the better part of the past year, thank you. Thank you for growing with the times by finding safe and innovative ways to make a difference for children and families, and keeping our mission moving forward.

Now I’ll turn the mirror inward to our journey of growth here at Texas CASA. Starting in 2019, our staff undertook a year-long learning process about equity, privilege and oppression within society and its systems. We have since been building upon this learning and have been implementing practices into our day-to-day operations to help ensure equal opportunities for all. Just before the pandemic hit, we worked collaboratively as a staff to develop Texas CASA’s Guiding Principles. These principles, agreed-upon by our full staff and approved by our Board of Directors, put commitments and priorities into writing that we have been working towards for years, the core three of which I’ve included below:

  • Texas CASA commits to prioritizing keeping families together whenever safely possible, with a focus on child and family well-being and stability.
  • Texas CASA is committed to supporting programs in advocacy for children and families of all cultures, abilities, identities and backgrounds.
  • Texas CASA commits to destigmatizing issues faced by families within the child welfare system.

These principles are actively informing and guiding Texas CASA’s internal culture, as well as our statewide advocacy and leadership, and we’re not letting the pandemic get in the way. Read our full list of Guiding Principles.

A key way we’re putting these principles into practice is through our Leadership for Equity and Diversity (LEAD) Initiative. LEAD is our commitment to proactive change in both our own organization and in the statewide CASA network, focusing on understanding and addressing inequality and disparities along the lines of race, gender and sexual orientation, disability and poverty. On the network level, we have convened representatives of the 72 local CASA programs to discuss how those issues appear in the child welfare system and CASA’s work. Their expertise has set the framework for new training and materials coming next year.

We’re also proud that our recent Distinguished Speaker Series featured celebrated leaders in equity and child welfare: Dr. Jessica Pryce, Riki Wilchins, Kevin Campbell and Professor Ibram X. Kendi. Each of these experts delivered eye-opening, action-oriented presentations which you can view on our website. Important note: Professor Kendi’s recording expires at noon CST on Wednesday, Dec. 3, so tune in before it’s too late!

CASA community, in the midst of an extraordinarily difficult year, we haven’t slowed down. If anything, this time has awakened outstanding flexibility and innovation, a dissatisfaction with the status quo and a hunger for growth, the likes of which I’ve never seen. In this way, CASA will never be the same—and that’s a good thing.

I look forward to the day when we can gather and grow together again, in person. Until then, I have every faith that our movement will continue to innovate, improve and inspire—and help create a Texas that works justly for all.

Wishing you a safe and restful holiday season,