For every child who needs us, CASA of Travis County envisions a trained volunteer advocate, a safe home and a promising future.
Even as the challenges of 2020 unfolded, CASA focused on ensuring the sustainability and high quality of our advocacy for children’s best interest through uncertain times. We increased the frequency of our virtual visits with children and families, we enhanced our vigilance in looking for signs that children might be unsafe or families might be struggling, and we increased the direct financial support we provided to children and their caregivers. To do so during such economic unpredictability meant that we put some of our most ambitious plans for growth on hold temporarily. Because of the stalwart support of this community, we believe that our choice to focus on sustainability and quality in 2020 gives us a strong foundation for 2021 to recommit to our long-held vision of providing a trained CASA volunteer, a safe home, and a promising future for every child who needs us.
In 2021, CASA of Travis County’s goal is to serve 2,100 children with 850 volunteer advocates. The number of children in the system continues to grow, and our vision remains: to serve 100% of the children who need us. Since October 2020, we have accepted automatic appointment to all new cases with children at least three years old or older. In addition, we are constantly improving the reach and efficiency of our volunteer recruitment efforts, with strong attention to recruiting from historically underrepresented parts of the community to build the diversity of our volunteer base. As we are growing to serve more and more children, we’re also deepening the quality of our advocacy on their behalf.
Children and youth in the child welfare system are vulnerable to ongoing abuse and exploitation. CASA of Travis County has taken steps to help mitigate those risks by implementing strict child safety protocols. CASA of Travis County is the first and only CASA program in the country to become accredited for excellence in child safety practices by Praesidium, Inc., a company focused on abuse prevention. CASA has 43 Certified Praesidium Guardians on staff, and we have worked with Praesidium to develop a CASA-specific training to help other programs to strengthen their safety measures for children.
For children whose exposure to trauma overwhelms their ability to cope with what they have experienced, CASA works to ensure that the people around them can understand and respond appropriately to the impacts of trauma. CASA is a founding member of and serves on the steering committee for the Travis County Collaborative for Children (TCCC), whose goal is to accelerate healing and speed to permanent homes for children in foster care based upon proven principles and practices of trauma-informed care. A number of our program staff and many of our volunteers are trained in the principles of Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI), a research-based model for working with children who have experienced trauma from the Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development at Texas Christian University.
CASA’s Family Finding (FF) program began in 2013 with an emphasis on reconnecting youth who had been in long-term foster care with members of their extended families. Today, the program is focused on family finding for all the children to whom we are appointed. The FF team of staff and specialized volunteers support our advocacy by identifying, contacting, and engaging family members as supports for children. FF’s overarching goal is to help children reach permanent homes faster, preferably with relatives, and, even if a permanent home is not achieved, to give children an understanding of their heritage and the supportive family members and other adults in their lives. This program offers a unique volunteer opportunity for individuals who enjoy research and behind-the-scenes advocacy for children.
Early Family Engagement
CASA’s Early Family Engagement (EFE) program supports our family engagement efforts by keeping children connected to their families from the earliest stage of a case. The EFE team of staff and specialized volunteers serve as the primary entry point for all new cases, conducting in-depth interviews to evaluate a child’s specific needs and identifying and engaging as many family members as possible to build relationships that will serve as the foundation for long-term family engagement. This early engagement with relatives opens up living options for children outside of foster homes and can encourage reunification by surrounding parents with family support.
Teen Advocacy & Permanency Project
CASA's Teen Advocacy and Permanency Project (TAPP) serves youth who are at risk of becoming adults without a family or other long-term supports. Without intervention, studies have shown that these youth have a high likelihood of homelessness, incarceration and poverty in their adult lives. Through specialized advocacy in the areas of education, preparation and healthy connections, TAPP works to reverse these trends for youth who often have fewer living options and may require a high level of care.
As part of TAPP, we are one of the few CASA programs in Texas serving youth who have both CPS and juvenile justice court cases as part of a Crossover Docket. With more parties looking out for the needs of youth and with a judge able to look holistically at the issues, the Crossover Docket can support better outcomes for kids than traditional adult or juvenile justice cases. We are appointed to 100% of youth on the Crossover Docket.
Disproportionality, Equity and Inclusion
CASA is deeply committed to infusing the ideals of equity and inclusion into every aspect of our work. By training staff and volunteers and offering programs to address disparities and challenge biases, CASA strives to develop cultural humility and understanding in working with children and families from different backgrounds.
CASA leadership serve on collaborative community planning bodies, that include court involvement, to address the dramatically disproportionate over-representation of children of color in the Travis County child welfare system. We have also developed a new 3-part workshop called Cultivating Anti-Racism through Personal Exploration (CAPE), in which staff and volunteers explore and discuss equity and inclusion issues.
CASA continually evaluates the effectiveness of our volunteer recruitment, and we have dedicated time, personnel and financial resources to more consistent and conscientious outreach in historically underrepresented parts of the community. While our volunteer pool does not yet reflect the racial/ethnic makeup of our county, we are making steady progress toward that through dedicated staff and recruitment/advertising efforts. In 2020, we were able to increase the number of new volunteers who were people of color to 40% (up from 31% in 2019).
CASA is appointed by judges as the official "education advocate" to school-aged children in addition to being appointed as guardian ad litem. Advocates meet with counselors, teachers and school administration to closely monitor a child's educational progress and to help schools better serve children with behavioral issues or specific education needs. As the education advocate, volunteers can especially help children who change homes and schools, ensuring the child does not fall behind during the transition and connecting new schools with previous ones.
CASA is a partner in the Travis County Family Drug Treatment Court, a specialized program for families whose primary factor in child neglect is substance abuse. The Drug Court program, available to a limited number of parents and staffed by a small, dedicated group of stakeholders, strives to keep children with their parents by surrounding the family with support services and extra resources (such as inpatient treatment and housing) and by requiring greater oversight.
You Can Help Us Reach Our Vision
Become a Volunteer Advocate
CASA isn’t your typical volunteer role, but we’re not looking for typical volunteers! Volunteering with CASA is next level, and it’s one of the most impactful and empowering experiences you can have. If you want to become one of our 400 new volunteer recruits in 2021, please visit our Volunteer page to learn more. You can also refer a friend or organization to CASA or RSVP for a Volunteer Info Session!
You can support our vision by donating to CASA, becoming a member of one of our giving societies, attending or hosting a fundraising event, and more. Check out the many ways you can show your support for children!