By Steven Olender
It’s summer in Texas and, as the temperature climbs into triple digits, many of us are dreaming of travelling to chillier climates. By necessity, CASA volunteers learn to balance their plans to visit family or see new cities while still keeping up with their requirements to see the children on their cases face to face a minimum of once per month. They know that keeping up these regular visits allows them to build and maintain a relationship with the children and, sometimes more importantly, gives them the chance to lay eyes on the children, to see that they are healthy and their placement is safe.
Travis County is in a placement crisis, though, and many children are placed too far away for their volunteers to see them monthly. Nearly 30% of all new cases are placed outside of Travis County and the contiguous counties, according to a report from Mission Capital, with some placed as close as New Braunfels and others placed as far as California. For volunteers on these cases, those who will need to engage in a different kind of travel this summer, the rules for visitation change. Those volunteers traveling to placements between 60 and 180 miles from the capitol are only required to see children on their cases every three months. If they are travelling more than 180 miles, it’s every six months.
"Unfortunately, the kids who are placed far from Travis County are usually the ones with the greatest needs."
Unfortunately, the kids who are placed far from Travis County are usually the ones with the greatest needs. Some are merely placed at such a distance because that is where family members who can be an ideal placement live. Most, though, find their way to far away placements because they have behavioral issues stemming from the trauma they’ve experienced and we simply don’t have the specialized foster placements and residential treatment centers necessary to take care of them in Travis County.
As such, building and maintaining relationships with the children is paramount. These kids have the highest needs of care, but they also have the highest need for connection and support. For them, a CASA volunteer can truly be the only constant figure in their lives, as even their attorneys may change and a local caseworker will likely take over visits. Some CASA volunteers go above and beyond the call of duty, maintaining monthly visits with kids living out of the Austin area or even visiting them more often. One volunteer kept up monthly visits with five children in four placements all across the state. This is, however, neither the norm nor the expectation.
Following the requirements for seeing kids placed far away can be challenging, but with a little bit of care, it is definitely doable. Here are some tips from CASA supervisors to make travelling for cases a little more manageable.
- Plan ahead. If you have to fly, book in advance for deals on flights and talk to your supervisor about options for discounts or reimbursements.
- Just because you can’t see the child in person doesn’t mean you can’t stay in contact. Call the kids on the phone regularly or do video calls on Skype or Facetime.
- Make your trip into something you look forward to by finding a museum you want to visit or a hotel you are excited to stay in. Better yet, have the kids show you their favorite place in town!
- Find a way to make a special connection with the kids on your case. Start a book club with them or be pen pals with handwritten letters.
- Keep track of when the kids might be in Austin for hearings or other purposes. You can avoid travel if you see them face to face here, but you should still visit in person from time to time so you can see the conditions at the placement.
- Get podcasts or audiobooks for long drives. If you use the Overdrive app, you can download audiobooks from the library for free. If you pick podcasts or books that are relevant to your case, you can even get continuing ed. credit.
- Lastly, try to visit more than required at the start of the case. It’s much easier to build rapport with the kids in person and it means a lot to children to see you put in that effort.
July Recruitment 2017