— The Walton Family Foundation recently announced they are providing grant funds to help CASA of Palo Pinto and Parker Counties increase staff in order to better serve abused and neglected children in the counties.
“That news was certainly like a terrific firework of positive light for us,” said Barb Tucker, executive director of the local CASA organization. “The number of abused and neglected children needing a CASA volunteer continues to grow and the Challenge Grant will be used to hire volunteer supervisors.”
CASA is an acronym for Court-Appointed Special Advocates. When children are removed from their home due to abuse or neglect, or both, the judge in the case appoints a trained CASA volunteer to be his eyes and ears. The CASA volunteer advocates for the children’s best interests and reports concerns and recommendations to the judge.
CASA volunteers work the case they are appointed to on their own time, with the exception of court hearings and meetings regarding their child. The CASA volunteer is assisted by a volunteer supervisor on the CASA staff. Texas CASA allows volunteer supervisors to assist no more than 30 volunteers.
The Foundation approved a two-year Challenge Grant of $40,000. Half of that amount is available now, and the other half will be provided in July 2014. The grant funds will provide partial support for CASA of Palo Pinto and Parker Counties to hire a volunteer supervisor in 2013 and an additional volunteer supervisor in 2014.
Potential donors will be challenged to make commitments to raise the remaining funds necessary to hire the volunteer supervisors, the Foundation explained.
“CASA of Parker County was formed in 2006. Since that date our organization has been able to serve 100 percent of the children taken into the custody of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (which includes the Child Protective Services division),” said Tucker. “We are one of only four CASA organizations of the 70 in the state of Texas that has reached this level of accomplishment.
“In other words, when the judge in the case wants a CASA volunteer to advocate for a child or sibling group, we have been able to always meet that request,” Tucker said.
In 2011, 144 children were served by CASA of Parker County volunteers.
The need for more CASA volunteers increases as the number of children who are removed from their home increases.
In January 2012, Texas CASA requested CASA of Parker County include the CASA program in Palo Pinto County.
“In March of 2012, Palo Pinto CASA became a part of our organization, increasing our number of children in care to 257,” Tucker said. “By the end of 2012 the number of children served had increased to 273. This was a 47 percent increase in children served by our CASA volunteers in the two counties.”
So far in the first four months of 2013, CASA of Palo Pinto and Parker Counties are serving 264 children.
“Calculating a conservative 15 percent increase for 2013 this could put us at 304 children to be served by Palo Pinto and Parker County CASA volunteers by the end of the year,” Tucker added. “With another 15 percent increase in 2014 the number of children needing to be served by CASA would be 350.”
The leadership of the local CASA organization reached out to The Walton Family Foundation earlier this year with the request for funds to add volunteer supervisors to the staff.
CASA volunteers complete a 30-hour training course and observe courtroom proceedings before being sworn in by a local judge. Once they are sworn to the CASA volunteer role, the volunteer accepts a case that may consist of one child or a sibling group. Typically the CASA volunteer spends 15 hours per month on their case visiting with the child and talking to people who are relevant to the case, such as teachers, counselors, and foster parents.
“The success of the CASA program is defined by the difference each volunteer makes in the life of a child,” said Trisha Duke, volunteer recruiter/trainer for CASA of Palo Pinto and Parker Counties. “And obviously our volunteers here in Palo Pinto and Parker counties are getting something out of being a voice for abused and neglected children. We have a 90 percent retention rate for our CASA volunteers.”
For more information about becoming a CASA volunteer or how to donate to the local non-profit organization, contact Duke at 817-599-6224 or firstname.lastname@example.org.