Fighting for Children with Disabilities in Foster Care

By Vicki Spriggs, Texas CASA CEO

July is Disability Pride Month. Children and youth with disabilities are more likely to experience abuse and neglect. Once these children enter foster care, they face negative outcomes:

  • Children with disabilities are more likely than their peers to not finish high school, to be incarcerated and to experience homelessness.
  • They are half as likely as children without a disability to experience permanency through reunification with their family or adoption.
  • If they age out of the system at age 18, they often end up institutionalized or incarcerated.

Every child deserves safety, support, connection and the chance to thrive. Well-equipped, dedicated CASA volunteers can help turn these statistics around, one child at a time. In this month’s edition of The CASA Voice, we’re equipping you with information and resources to fight for children with disabilities.

We feature an in-depth Q&A with Andrea Bright-Fontana, an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter and adoptive parent of Deaf children, about Deaf and hard-of-hearing children in foster care. We also feature a new training and resources about Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits so that CASA volunteers can help ensure qualifying children and families get the benefits they need and deserve.

I’ve also included reminders of some key resources and organizations to aid in your advocacy.

Early Childhood Intervention (ECI): Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) is a statewide program within the Texas Health and Human Services Commission for families with children from birth up to age 3, with developmental delays, disabilities or certain medical diagnoses that may impact development. ECI services are free through STAR Health, the Medicaid program that covers almost all children and youth in foster care.

Health Advocacy Guide: Our Health Advocacy Guide dives into the mental and physical health services offered through STAR Health. This guide equips volunteers with the resources and information needed to advocate for the best possible medical and mental healthcare for children.

Educational Advocacy Guidebook: Our Educational Advocacy Guidebook examines how the school and child welfare systems intersect and provides CASA volunteers with information and tools to help make a difference in children’s education. Chapter six is dedicated specifically to advocating for special education or Section 504 services for students with disabilities.

Dual Status Training: As many as 70% of youth who enter the juvenile justice system have some sort of mental health, sensory or learning disability. CASA staff and volunteers can take the Advocacy for Dual Status Youth training on the Texas CASA Learning Center to help better understand their role in dual status cases (when a child is involved in both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems). This training was conducted by Ryan Miller of CASA of Travis County.

Disability Rights Texas: Disability Rights Texas has lawyers who specialize in disability advocacy and can represent children in foster care and help them navigate the systems with which they are involved. If you’re a volunteer, talk with your CASA supervisor about whether it would be useful to contact Disability Rights Texas on behalf of a child you are advocating for.

“Having a CASA volunteer who gets it right, who takes the time to educate themselves and really learn more about these kids, makes a huge difference.” – Andrea Bright-Fontana

In her interview with us, Andrea Bright-Fontana called CASA volunteers “powerhouses,” and I couldn’t agree more. I hope these resources empower, inspire and support you in your advocacy. Thank you for all that you do!