Bridging the Gap between Community and Courtroom

Jul 21 2015

By Michelle Iglesias

Disparities and inequities are impacting families and communities of color in disproportional rates. The child welfare system is no exception. Solutions are as complex as the issue itself, but finding new ways to engage with the families we work with can draw out a more comprehensive understanding of the issues and concerns they face.

Michelle Iglesias, a CASA volunteer and intern with CASA's Family Finding program, shares her insights after a recent townhall meeting between Austin A.I.R. and the Travis County Model Court Disproportionality Committee.

In an effort to bridge the gap between the community and the courtroom, the Austin A.I.R (Addressing Institutional Racism) along with the Travis County Model Court committee on Disproportionality, hosted a town hall meeting with The Honorable Darlene Byrne of the 126th District Court in Travis County. National CASA recently recognized Judge Byrne as Judge of the Year. This was due, in part, to her on-going commitment to connect with the larger issues in this profession. For this town hall forum, Kenneth Thompson with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Service facilitated the discussion, and The Honorable Judge Texanna Davis and Judge Aurora Martinez-Jones attended as a part of the audience discussion.

This meeting allowed community members, families, practitioners, and professionals to come together to discuss upcoming initiatives as well as start conversations about how to better serve and understand families. As an organization, CASA’s objective is to identify and work together for the best interest of the child.  Participating in these town hall forums allows us to better understand how families experience the child welfare system, in addition to learning what steps can be taken to address racial and ethnic disproportionality and disparities in this process.

During this meeting, we learned the Court has implemented a new initiative, effective September 1, 2015, where parents or guardians of children who are removed through the judicial process will be provided an attorney before the first hearing. This is great news for our families as parents may have an opportunity to better prepare for and understand the process of these cases before they arrive at the courthouse. This has the potential to reduce wait times in identifying support options for the family, services or assistance accessible to the family, and solutions to reunite children with their families in a safe and healthy way.

Finally, we had the opportunity to hear about the Department of Family and Protective Services’ efforts to address disproportionality within their agency. They have developed training manuals and practice guides that will provide skills to caseworkers so that they may work with families with greater compassion, cultural competency, and sensitivity. The issue of inequity and disparity within our communities has long been a problem, but continued participation in forums and discussions that bring all parties to the table can go a long way in addressing what each of us can do to tackle these issues. Volunteer advocates are encouraged to lend their experiences and observations about the struggles our families face by participating if possible. Doing so will help us all to serve the best interest of our CASA kids.