By Vicki Spriggs
Chief Executive Officer of Texas CASA
June is National Reunification Month, and as the world watches the ongoing crisis at the Texas border, Texas CASA stands committed to putting the best interest of the child first and foremost in everything we do.
This month takes on a more pressing meaning as we think of the thousands of children who have been separated from their families. We know from research and our experience that separating children from their parents for any reason is highly traumatic, and has lifelong consequences in terms of outcomes and social and emotional development. The children who have been detained as the result of alleged immigration violations are subject to federal law and in the custody or supervision of federal entities. Since CASA programs are established under state law and serve as advocates for children in the state child protection system, there is no legal provision for CASA volunteer appointment under these circumstances.
Even as we continue to monitor the situation, we are also taking the time this month to reflect on and honor the people, organizations and practices that support families and help make it possible for them to safely stay together.
Texas CASA stands firm in our commitment to support local programs, families and those working towards reunification for the children in the Texas foster care system not only in June, but all year long.
Foster care is only a temporary solution for children. They need and deserve a loving and permanent home where they can heal and grow, and whenever safe and possible, that should mean reunification with their families. We know that it is much more likely that reunification will be successful when parents have the right type of help, access to needed services, and support from loved ones – so Texas CASA is leading the charge towards creating a child welfare system that better works for and meets the needs of children and their families through an innovative approach called Collaborative Family Engagement (CFE).
Using this approach, CASA and CPS work together as a team to complete the steps of Family Finding and establish a community of support around children in the foster care system. Studies show that one of the strongest indicators for child well-being is the number of committed adults in their life, and this partnership is built around the fact that children have many blood relatives and other important connections that can be identified and located, and engaged with a case at its inception.
What makes CFE unique is that we are taking family engagement work a step further by creating “lifetime networks” – dedicated teams of family members and other adults who commit to helping the child and family through the duration of the case. We are recognizing and utilizing the unique strengths each member brings to the table, and truly welcoming their presence in the child’s life and their continued involvement in the planning and decision making for the child. When children are surrounded by this type of engaged network of support, they can work collaboratively to ensure the plan for getting the child out of foster care and into a permanent home is supported and sustainable, making it much more likely that a plan for family reunification will be successful. Like the name implies, these networks are meant to last a lifetime – ensuring children and their families are surrounded with the positive connections they need long after CASA and CPS involvement ends.
Additionally, as an extension of our work with CFE, Texas CASA and the 11 Consulates of Mexico in Texas signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in November 2016 which facilitates our network’s ability to work together in serving the best interest of Mexican minors and children of Mexican origin in the foster care system. One of the MOU’s objectives is to connect each child with their family, regardless of whether they reside in Mexico or the US – so that every child we serve has the chance to benefit from the connections and care that family provides.
This month, as we reflect on keeping families together as the best possible outcome for children in foster care, I hope you’ll also join me in thanking the CASA staff, volunteers, CPS caseworkers and others who are creating better connections for children and leading the way for a more family-centered system. Currently, 20 local CASA programs and their local CPS are practicing CFE, and next year, we plan to expand the practice even further. All children deserve meaningful lifelong connections and permanency as soon as possible, and through this approach, we are ensuring more children are surrounded by the positive relationships and support that will help them thrive before they leave foster care.
If you are not currently involved with CASA, I ask you today to consider how you can play a part in making a difference in the lives of our most vulnerable children. Are you ready to take the first step towards becoming a CASA volunteer? Visit BecomeACASA.org to learn how you can speak up for a child who needs you. You can also support the work of Texas CASA by making a secure online gift that will benefit the local CASA volunteer advocacy programs across the state.