Travis County wins two National CASA Awards of Excellence

Jun 04 2015

We are proud to announce that The Honorable Darlene Byrne has been named Judge of the Year and our Family Finding Program has been named a Promising Practice in the National CASA 2015 Awards of Excellence! The awards were announced this past weekend at National CASA's annual conference. 

The Honorable Darlene Byrne - Judge of the Year

Judge Byrne is a child advocacy leader at a local, state and national level. Whether it is through her unfailing compassion and respect for those children and families appearing before her in court or through her writings and public appearances, she is committed to improving the child welfare system.

The Honorable Darlene Byrne - Judge of the Year

Under Judge Byrne’s leadership, the Travis County child protection courts were named a model court in 2009. Since then, the model court has been used to improve the system for children and families by examining data and applying common-sense solutions for children. A true believer in the CASA model, she often pens editorials and makes public appearances to increase the community’s understanding of what children and families need. As all of us know, she consistently uses her powerful voice from the bench to benefit children and families, and to demonstrate that she values the work that CASA does. We cannot imagine a more deserving person to receive National CASA’s Judge of the Year award.

Judge Byrne took a moment from her award acceptance speech to applaud and thank the CASA volunteers and staff:

"I want to thank you for your courage. I want to thank you for your humor. I want to thank you for the hugs you've given a child, for the voice you give young people, for the words of encouragement for a mom and dad who are down on their luck with no parents of their own. I want to thank each and every one of you for being there for the child."


Family Finding Program - Promising Practice Spotlight Award

The Family Finding Program has earned CASA of Travis County one of two Promising Practice Spotlights for 2015. Although we are not the first, or only, CASA program to engage in diligent search efforts for placements for children, we have created a unique and specific model. On our own initiative, we embarked on the most comprehensive family-finding effort in the history of Texas CASA. We secured dedicated funding to employ, full-time, a staff member for the purposes of training and supervising volunteers in their efforts to find extended family, long-lost relatives and supportive adults for children and youth.

AJ Renold accepting Family Finding Promising Practices Award

One illustration of our success involved the case of two girls, aged four and six-years-old. Facing termination of parental rights, the children were living with a maternal aunt who had expressed she would not be a permanent placement for the girls. Utilizing its family finding approach, we identified another maternal aunt who had previously been screened out as a possible permanent resource. This family engagement resulted in a long-term solution for the children.

Our program is also unique in that we offer family-finding services to cases at all stages of the child welfare legal process. This program has been so successful that Texas CASA is seeking legislative appropriations and Child Protective Services’ support to pilot the model in other organizations across Texas.

Director of Family Engagement AJ Renold and Executive Director Laura Wolf accepted the Promising Practices award. In her acceptance speech, AJ shared with the audience how "family finding is key to achieving two essential goals of CASA programs: protecting the well-being of children and empowering volunteers." Later that day, AJ presented on the Family Finding Program to a large audience as one of the conference workshops. We are excited to help this program expand to CASA programs across the state and country so that more children in the Child Protective Services system will build meaningful family connections. 

National CASA Award Winners

Director of Family Engagement AJ Renold, Executive Director Laura Wolf, The Honorable Darlene Byrne, Board Member Jessica Blacklock