Announcing our newest program: Family Finding

Feb 13 2014

Announcing our newest program: Family Finding

By A.J. Barak

Youth in foster care who have healthy connections to family are more likely to thrive in any environment.  Through a grant from the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, CASA of Travis County has created a staff position and volunteer opportunity with the sole purpose of finding family for Travis County children in foster care.  The new position of Family Finding Specialist will develop, train and support experienced volunteers to locate and connect youth with family and supportive adults.  Anjuli (A.J.) Barak, a current staff member at CASA of Travis County, has moved to the Family Finding Specialist position after serving as a Child Advocacy Specialist and Transitioning Youth Specialist for the past three years at CASA of Travis County. 

My name is A.J. Barak and, as a Texas native and native Austinite, I have had the fortune of being raised and supported by my community and extended family, through good times and bad, right here in Central Texas.  I was drawn to a career in child advocacy with CASA of Travis County because  I believe in the impact that community volunteers can have on struggling families and children caught up in the many cycles of disparity for which they have no control.  My path has always been underscored by a passion for seeking out the most accurate and objective information regarding the circumstances surrounding a family involved with CPS.  After all, good decisions can only be made with accurate and up-to-date information, right? 

Travis County CPS courts rely heavily on CASA to provide in-depth information, not only about the current situation of foster children, but also about potential solutions regarding permanency for those children lingering in foster care.  Many older youth linger in foster care much too long, often aging out to become struggling adult members of the Travis County community.  That is, if they have no one to call or go home to in a time of need. 

The focus of the Family Finding Program at CASA of Travis County is to provide a vital and lasting resource to the children we serve, a family connection.  There is a mountain of compelling evidence that children and adults who have secure attachments to family members and other people who are important to them, tend to have improved school performance, improved behavior, healthier relationships, and more hopefulness in their lives. The single most identified variable contributing to positive outcomes for youth involves meaningful connections and lifelong relationships with family members and other adults. Source: Aging Out and On Their Own Report (http://www.pewtrusts.org/)

That being said, finding and engaging family members of youth in foster care is a delicate dance between a child’s future and a child’s past.  As the Family Finding Specialist, I am charged with training and supervising experienced CASA volunteers to focus only on the task of research and communication with family members. Why does this task require a special task force?  This program is needed because it takes time, specialized skills and willingness to piece together the past in order to create a solid foundation and frame to support the children of our community in the future.  CASA Family Finding volunteers will be working in the near future to provide CASA volunteers with extensive information regarding family members and family dynamics of foster children who lack healthy connections. 

My belief is that every child deserves the dignity of knowing their heritage.  Every child yearns to be nurtured by a family member.  Every child has a healthy family member.  It is our responsibility as Court Appointed Special Advocates to find and connect family members with the children who are being raised by the State of Texas.  Texas is a beautiful state, but not a perfect parent.  Just like our oak trees and wildflowers, our children need roots to withstand turbulent times, thus allowing them to blossom as they mature.  As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "...man is a bundle of relations; a knot of roots, whose flower and fruitage is the world..."   CASA Family Finding is rooted in CASA’s mission to provide a trained volunteer advocate, a safe home and a promising future to every child by supporting our CASA volunteers and maintaining a sense of urgency for every child. 

Current CASA volunteers interested in serving as a Family Finding volunteer can contact A.J. at aj.barak@casatravis.org. For current volunteers who feel your case could benefit from Family Finding services, please speak with your CASA supervisor and the case will be referred to Family Finding.