By Vicki Spriggs, Texas CASA CEO
Dear CASA Community,
The number of children without placements in Texas, referred to by the Department as “CWOP,” has reached an unprecedented level. At the same time, three Group Residential Operations facilities have just closed, and two licensing agencies are also shutting down.
As a result of this capacity crisis, CPS has responsibility for the care and supervision of children without a home or placement to go to. Shockingly high numbers of children are spending the night with CPS workers in state offices or hotels. This strain on the CPS workforce appears to be causing tenured caseworkers to leave the agency. CPS has reached out to local CASA programs to assist with this situation, making a range of requests from onsite supervision of children, to assisting with laundry and locating places for children to sleep.
This is a true emergency for our Texas child welfare system.
CASA’s role to advocate for the best interest of children has never been more important! During this tumultuous time, there are certain things we can do within the CASA role as we all strive to meet the needs of children.
How Can CASA Support Children & CPS at This Time of Crisis?
First and foremost, we can find and engage family members as supports for children and as potential placements. One facility that recently closed was able to place 26 children with family members. Are there family members of the children you serve that are an untapped resource for placement? Now is the time to redouble efforts to engage immediate and extended family. There are tools available through Collaborative Family Engagement (CFE) to help in this process. If your program is not yet involved with CFE or wants guidance, please get in touch.
CASA is an expert at working with partners to identify and facilitate access to community resources. Are there resources that you could suggest to CPS in order to enhance the supports available to children, families and caseworkers? Facilitating community referrals is an excellent way to find (rather than directly provide) needed supports.
Explore concrete ways to provide assistance during the current upheaval, such as a food, clothes and toy drive. Mobilizing volunteers and community members to provide resources has a long history in CASA programs—such as toy drives over the holidays, school supplies drives at the beginning of each school year, and support of Rainbow Rooms.
Have volunteers visit in-person with “CWOP” children they are assigned to, in order to provide them emotional support, assess their needs, gather resources for them and stay in close communication during the crisis. If the program allows for transportation of CASA-assigned children, that option can be used to offer children enrichment activities such as a sporting event or visit to a park.
What CASA Cannot Do
Take shifts to supervise children in the care and custody of CPS. Not only is this outside of CASA’s legal role, it creates a huge liability for programs, as CASA volunteers are not trained or supervised for those activities. CASA does not have the structure, policies, or protections in place to be even temporary custodians of children.
Be responsible in any other way for the direct care of children. This includes providing housing or a place to bathe (both of which are prohibited in CASA Standards). We also cannot provide transportation of youth who are not assigned a CASA volunteer.
We will provide more information as soon as it becomes available. Please do not hesitate to reach out with any questions you may have, or to share information that you gather with Texas CASA. I appreciate the care and concern you consistently give and the dedication you demonstrate on a daily basis.
Thank you for all that you do,