Children from underrepresented or marginalized communities are at greater risk of coming into the child welfare system, and of being subjected to abuse or neglect within that system. For example, children of color are overrepresented in the child welfare system, with 85 percent of youth who are removed from their homes identifying as children of color compared to 65 percent of children in Travis County identifying as children of color. Similarly, children who identify as LGBTQA+ are disproportionately represented in the child welfare system, as are children with disabilities. Very often, children from marginalized communities have poorer outcomes while in the system than other children. As advocates for children’s best interests, CASA has a responsibility to ensure that we do everything we can to understand the unique circumstances and challenges that confront each child and that our advocacy is aimed at reducing disparate outcomes for the children we serve. We strive to make sure our staff and volunteers understand and address disparities and challenge biases within the child welfare system and other systems such as juvenile justice. We also strive to build a staff and volunteer base that more closely reflects the races and ethnicities of the community we serve. One way to continue these efforts is with a full-time staff member dedicated to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. DEI work reaches every corner of our organization, and through creating this role, we are able to constantly evaluate our work through an equity lens, which better serves the children whom these inequities affect most.
This month, Alejandro Victoria steps into this role as CASA’s Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. With nearly eight years of experience at CASA of Travis County, he brings a strong passion for DEI, including his background as former Vice President for Austin Pride, to the position. We talked with Alejandro about how his personal journey led him toward work that honors and respects the diversity and inclusion of systemically marginalized groups and his plans to create a more equitable environment among staff, volunteers, and children in the child welfare system.
"Being a gay Latino, diversity and equity have been part of my life and personal journey."
Why were you interested in taking on this new role at CASA?
"In my time at CASA, I’ve always prioritized DEI work. We are always looking at equitable screening practices and working to promote diversity and inclusion. I am so passionate about this kind of work, and when I look at where CASA has been and where we’re looking to go, this was exciting to put in motion, using strategy and metrics to move us forward. Having been at CASA for 7 ½ years, I knew what our organization needed. Now, to be able to do what I professionally want to do at a place where I’ve learned and grown professionally is so exciting."
Why are you the right person for this role?
"For me, being a gay Latino, diversity and equity have been part of my life and personal journey. My experience with my own identity and journey is mirrored so many times in the youth and families I’ve served at CASA. Before I moved to Austin, I even struggled with my own name. I went by Alex instead of Alejandro. Our individual experiences are really important, and I’ve really embraced my own identity and culture since coming here.
Professionally, I've had a number of different roles including working with volunteers on cases and recruiting and screening volunteers. I was one of the co-creators for our CAPE Workshop (Cultivating Anti-Racism through Personal Exploration) in 2020. We created a brand new curriculum, something we felt would be beneficial for staff and volunteers, something that would push the envelope in this work. The response we’ve gotten has been great. I'm able to put all this experience into the DEI position and really implement changes that are going to help have the best outcomes on cases and create a really inclusive environment at CASA."
What kinds of things do you hope to accomplish in this role?
"Building a culture of inclusivity at CASA is so important. We operate within a system — the child welfare system — with a history of institutional racism and that serves a disproportionate number of youth of color. Black children are 6.4 times more likely to be removed from their homes than white children, and Hispanic children are 2.8 times more likely to be removed from their homes than white children. At CASA, we have the ability to change this and promote equity and inclusion within our work. Being able to look at CPS cases from an equity lens is really crucial. Internally, this means growing a diverse staff as well as the advocacy our volunteers are doing and how that’s translating to the best interest of the children we serve in Travis County."
What are going to be some of your first steps in this new role?
"First, I want to listen. Even though I’ve been here for 7 ½ years, I know it’s so important to listen to the people I work with and the volunteers. Their stories and experiences are crucial to understanding the work I need to do. My goal is to develop a DEI strategic plan that we can use as a roadmap and create measurables, things to hold us accountable and show where we are going. I want to analyze what we’ve done in the past: what’s worked, what hasn’t, and work on a path forward."
"One thing I want people to know is that they have a voice and they have someone who will truly listen to them."
Is there anything else you would like to add?
"One thing I want people to know is that they have a voice and they have someone who will truly listen to them. Only together can we take action to help create a more equitable child welfare system."
(CASA of Travis County has been awarded a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Grant from the National Court Appointed Special Advocate/Guardian ad Litem (CASA/GAL) Association for Children. The National CASA/GAL DEI Grants support state organizations and local programs with volunteer recruitment among target populations reflective of the communities and children served, DEI initiatives that create a culture of inclusiveness and equitable practices and building of a more culturally competent workforce, including DEI training opportunity provision.)