The child welfare system has been in the news this summer, as a report was released by two federal court monitors that provided a troubling update to an ongoing federal lawsuit in which a judge found five years ago that the state had violated the constitutional rights of children in foster care. Earlier this month, this judge ruled again that Texas needs to do further work to keep children safe, especially in congregate care facilities, such as residential treatment centers or shelters. Not long after this ruling, came the news that the State would stop using two residential treatment centers where court monitors, as well as CASA volunteers and staff, have had many concerns.
Because judges appoint CASA to make recommendations to them that are in children’s best interest, advocating for children’s safety is our number one priority. We take the conditions outlined in this report extremely seriously. Sometimes, the only placement option for the children we serve is at a residential treatment center, and some residential treatment centers are excellent. We have had numerous children find badly needed therapeutic services to address their trauma in well-run residential treatment centers. But we’ve also seen troubling conditions of neglect and even abuse at some residential treatment centers. This is why we are one of the first CASA programs in the nation to have a team dedicated to visiting and assessing congregate care facilities.
CASA of Travis County’s Director of Quality and Safety, Greg Trottie, and our Child Safety Specialist, Melissa Wilson, are dedicated to thoroughly understanding how we can most effectively advocate for the best interest of children living in residential treatment facilities. They do this by providing supplemental face-to-face visits for children who live at these facilities, gathering information about day-to-day care, asking about therapies, staff training, staff-to-child ratios, discipline practices, and operational policies and sharing this information with the rest of our staff. Greg and Melissa have built relationships with staff members at the centers and at CPS that they hope to keep strengthening, so that we can continue to offer our feedback in making residential treatment centers as safe as possible for every child living there. In Greg’s words, “If we can show the kids we serve that we’re trying to keep them safe, we can empower them to speak up when they feel they need to. Anything we can do to make these children feel as safe as possible is what our jobs are all about.”