Helping prevent children from coming into foster care

May 15 2013

Many people assume that all of the children served by CASA are in foster care and the majority of them are. However, because our courts in Travis County want to help families address their problems quickly and early, we are also appointed to children who are at risk of moving into foster care but for whom the court, CPS and CASA are making a last effort to try to avoid that outcome.

Children who come to the attention of CPS have already experienced abuse or neglect; however, removal of a child from his home and familiar surroundings, especially when followed by placement in foster care with strangers can be just as traumatizing, if not more so, than the situation that brought the child to CPS's attention in the first place. Fortunately, when there is a parent who is willing and eager to begin services that will correct the problems in the home and there is supportive and protective family or friends who are willing to keep the children safe, it can be possible to keep kids from having the State of Texas as their parent, even on a temporary basis.

These are "Court Ordered Services" (COS) cases, in which CPS and the courts are involved, but the State has not yet been ordered to take custody of the children. In Austin, our judges very much value CASA's input on these kinds of cases and in fact, in 2012, roughly 20% of the children for whom CASA advocated were in COS cases. These cases play an important stabilization role for children, helping their families heal and grow strong without the anguish of removal from familiar surroundings and entry into the foster care system. CASA can play a major role in these cases, from ensuring that parents are making necessary changes and children are receiving the care they need to successfully close the case, to, at times, helping determine if progress is not being made and safety continues to be a concern within the primary family so that Temporary Managing Conservatorship (TMC) must be sought with the possibility that the children might need to be moved into foster care.

One COS case to which CASA was appointed was brought partly because the mother had a history of other cases with CPS and was thought to be using drugs again. The father on the case was very angry about being involved with CPS, and concerns about his anger were pushing the case towards removal of the young child. CASA was able to be a calming voice, as someone who didn't represent CPS or the police, learning that the father was mainly scared about his child being removed and going into CPS care. CASA helped ease his fears, the recurring drug use on mom's part was found to be false and the case was resolved happily with the child never having to enter foster care.

For two little boys whose mother was struggling with mental health and drug abuse issues, CASA was able to navigate the complicated legal system for their best interest. While their mother was working to recover, the boys were living safely with their grandmother. Their mother did well and the boys returned to live with her for almost a year until she suffered a severe relapse, making the boys no longer safe in her home. Since this was a COS case, CPS asked the judge to grant Temporary Managing Conservatorship status to remove the boys from their home.  CASA struggled with the decision because the boys needed the protection and path to a permanent home provided by this status, but since their grandmother lived out of state, the TMC status would complicate their being placed with her. It would require a home study that would take 4-6 months to process. CASA felt strongly that the boys needed to live with their grandmother much faster than that, and without a lengthy stay at a foster home in between. CASA asked the court to instead maintain the case as Court Ordered Services and recommended that the judge order immediate placement with their grandmother. The court followed CASA's recommendations and the case closed with the boys happily living with their grandmother, with allowed supervised visits with their mother to make sure they maintain a relationship with her.

Foster care is an important resource and may be the best outcome for a child in a particular situation. Many foster parents are amazing, generous, selfless people who make enormous sacrifices for other people's children. Nevertheless, if a safe home can be found with a family member or friend on a temporary basis while parents work to provide a safe and appropriate home for their children, such an arrangement gives the family a chance to be repaired without the State stepping into the role of parent. Given that the State of Texas does not generally make a very good parent, we are grateful, on behalf of the children we serve, for our judges who use the tool of Court Ordered Services and who appoint CASA to those cases. In this way, CASA volunteers have the ability to advocate for children and families perhaps before major incidents have taken place, to help get them off a negative path and ensure that their homes become safe and loving environments in which to grow up.