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Texas CASA to Honor Big Voices for Little Texans™

Texas CASA to Honor Big Voices for Little Texans™
Local CASA Programs Across State to Present Awards to Legislative Champions

AUSTIN, Texas – Texas CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), the state association of 71 local CASA programs that recruit and train volunteers to speak up in court and represent the best interests of children in the child protection system, has selected five state senators and seven state representatives to honor as Big Voices for Little Texans™ in 2015. This award recognizes legislators for their outstanding leadership and dedication to improving the child protection system, ensuring our most vulnerable children’s voices were heard at the Capitol during the 84th Legislative Session.

“Texas CASA honors these men and women who are leading the way in helping us push the best interests of children to the forefront of our legislative process,” said Texas CASA CEO Vicki Spriggs. “These awards recognize the invaluable contributions made by our legislators and their commitment to ensuring that all Texas children have the chance to succeed.”

The Big Voices for Little Texans™ awards will be presented in the coming months at events hosted by the local CASA programs in the legislators’ districts, bringing together the child welfare community in each area to applaud these legislative champions and their leadership efforts around the state. This year’s recipients are listed below:

Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa has long championed legislation to improve the lives of children in Texas. He was the Senate author of the CASA Family Finding rider that appropriates funds for an innovative effort to improve permanency outcomes for foster children and was co-author of the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) Sunset bill, SB 206.

Sen. Lois Kolkhorst’s first session as a state senator was as impressive as her last as a state representative. She authored critical legislation, SB 830, which creates an independent ombudsman for children and youth in foster care housed within the Health and Human Service’s Commission’s (HHSC) ombudsman’s office.

Sen. Jane Nelson has been the leading voice in the Senate on child welfare issues for the last decade. This session, she led efforts to increase state funding for CASA programs in HB 2, which ultimately resulted in a $4.8 million funding increase. In addition, she authored SB 354 to move administration of Child Advocacy Centers and CASA funding from the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) to the HHSC, supported Family Finding funding and worked to increase funding for DFPS.

Sen. Charles Schwertner became a leading voice on child welfare issues during the 84th Session. He authored SB 1407, the “Normalcy” bill, and worked closely with Texas CASA and many other stakeholder groups to ensure the language of the bill aligned with federal requirements and best practices. He also co-authored SB 206, the DFPS Sunset bill, and supported a funding increase for CASA and Family Finding funds as chair of the Article II working group.

Sen. Royce West has been a critical voice for improving outcomes for children in state care for many years. This session he authored SB 125, which requires use of a new psycho-social assessment tool for children and youth in state care, along with a budget rider funding this requirement. In addition, he was the Senate sponsor of HB 3748, which greatly strengthens the educational support structures for foster children in public education, including post-secondary institutions.

Rep. Cindy Burkett became a key voice for the needs of children and youth in state care this past legislative session. She sponsored the DFPS Sunset bill and was a key supporter and co-sponsor of SB 830, which reforms the Office of Consumer Affairs. She also supported Family Finding funding in House Appropriations and co-authored HB 781, which improves training requirements for foster care providers.

Rep. Dawnna Dukes continued her leadership in protecting Texas foster children. She was the House sponsor of the “Normalcy” bill and carried the Family Finding rider in House Appropriations deliberations.

Rep. Harold Dutton continued his advocacy for better state policies for children and youth in Texas. He sponsored SB 830 in the House, which creates an independent ombudsman’s office at HHSC for foster youth. He also presided over the House Juvenile Justice and Family Issues committee.

Rep. Marsha Farney has a long history of leadership on education issues. This session, she authored HB 3748, which codifies and strengthens support for foster children in the public education system and extends support mechanisms for those who pursue post-secondary education. She was also the author of HB 2053, known as Colton’s law.

Rep. Elliott Naishtat is consistently one of the strongest voices for vulnerable children at the Texas Capitol. During the 84th Session, he was the House sponsor of SB 125, the Child and Adolescent Needs and Strengths (CANS) assessment bill, and focused on improving both foster care training and stability in foster youth housing by authoring HB 781 and sponsoring SB 1117, respectively.

Rep. John Otto has been a champion for local CASA programs for the past decade. As author of HB 2, the state Appropriations Bill, Chairman Otto supported a $4.8 million increase in CASA funding. He also offered the Texas CASA resolution on Capital Day.

Rep. John Zerwas is a leading voice on health and education issues in the Texas House. He sponsored SB 354, which moves administration of funding for CASA and Children’s Advocacy Centers to HHSC from the OAG. Additionally, as chair of the House Higher Education Committee, he helped advance HB 3748, the foster children education bill, through Committee at a crucial point in the session.

Texas CASA greatly appreciates each recipient’s hard work, dedication and thoughtful consideration of the issues facing children and youth in state care, as well as their support of Texas CASA’s legislative interests, policies and priorities.

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This recognition is made possible in part by Alpha Capital Management, a proud supporter of Texas CASA.