30 for 30

Jan 22 2015

By Sonia Kotecha

This year marks CASA of Travis County’s 30th anniversary! As we celebrate 30 years of empowering Austin to speak up for children, I will celebrate my last year in my thirties, and I cannot help but reflect on the year I turned 30, the year my journey with CASA began.

After spending my twenties in Washington, DC as a child protective service worker, at the eve of my 30th birthday, I packed my bags to return home to Austin, TX. As a young twenty-something thrust into the world of child welfare, I found myself in an overburdened system feeling as though I could never do enough for the number of innocent children served. Every morning, I had to decide which child’s case I would prioritize, because there was never enough time in the day to address the needs of the 20 to 30 kids on my caseload. As I continued to witness children as young as 3 years old move foster home to foster home within short periods of time, my frustration with the community’s lack of response grew. I fantasized about ways to improve the system from lowering caseloads to raising community awareness about the needs of children in foster care.

As I made my way back to Austin, I found myself a little burned out and struggling to find my niche. My mind swore off continuing to work in child welfare, feeling as though I could not make a significant impact managing caseloads with so many children in crisis who needed the one-on-one attention a single social worker could not provide. Then, my heart drew me to CASA of Travis County’s mission to provide a trained community volunteer for every child who needed one. I felt that, through the CASA model, children in foster care would receive the level of attention and advocacy that goes beyond what the Child Protective Service system can provide. A CASA volunteer can help gather additional information to help the judge feel more informed when making difficult and life-altering decisions on behalf of children and families. After managing multiple case loads, I discovered that children who experienced positive outcomes were the ones who had a consistent caring adult looking out for their best interest. These were the individuals who would keep me, the social worker and the system accountable to that child’s needs and permanency goal.

As I celebrate my 9 year anniversary at CASA, I feel so honored and privileged to work alongside the most amazing, generous, compassionate and selfless individuals in our community. In a very daunting system where you will witness human beings at their worse, you will also experience human beings at their best through the ways in which they give their time and resources to complete strangers. The work of CASA not only promotes positive outcomes for children, but it also helps educate our community on the needs of our most vulnerable children and families. When I first started working at CASA we were appointed to 50% of the children in Travis County who needed an advocate, and today we serve more than 80% of the children in foster care. I wish for a day that we can achieve 100% coverage so that the judge does not have to make a difficult decision from the bench as to which child will receive the additional advocacy and support of a trained CASA volunteer so that no child’s voice goes unheard.

Over the years, CASA has restored my faith in our community’s commitment to helping children and families thrive. In honor of CASA’s 30th Birthday, and my 39th Birthday, I’m asking 50 of my friends and family to grant a birthday wish and help us provide a child with a trained CASA volunteer for a whole year. Please join my 30 for 30 campaign to give a child a CASA volunteer for a whole year (this costs $1,500) with your simple $30 donation.