Weatherford Democrat

September 15, 2013

CASA volunteers ‘work’ hard for their children

One administrative office to serve duo-county CASA program


Weatherford Democrat

— Advocating for the abused and neglected children is the key focus of the trained citizens volunteering through CASA of Palo Pinto and Parker Counties. Currently, more than 314 children are being served by 102 CASA volunteers who are a strong voice for these children as they journey through the foster care system.

The CASA volunteers speak up for the children’s best interests in the one court in Palo Pinto County and the four courts in Parker County.

“Just about every week, there are CASA of Palo Pinto and Parker County volunteers in court for their kids,” said Barb Tucker, executive director for CASA of Palo Pinto and Parker Counties. “These volunteers have visited the children in their foster homes or relative placements, maybe visited with them at school, observed visitations between the children and their parents, and communicated with numerous professionals and family members all to gather information for their court report to the judge.”

CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) volunteers are appointed by a judge in a case when a child or sibling group is removed from their home due to abuse or neglect. There are four to five court hearings a year in which the CASA volunteer provides information in the case to the judge. The judge relies on CASA information, which is independent of Child Protective Service workers and attorneys, when making decisions of the child or children.

A recent survey by Texas CASA showed that 97 percent of the judges responding to the survey said the CASA volunteer’s information is vital to the decisions he or she makes for the child or children.

Once 30 hours of training is completed, CASA volunteers are sworn in by one of judges within the two counties, and the volunteer is appointed to a case which typically lasts about one year.

CASA staff has the role to support the volunteers – whether it is to be a sounding board for the volunteer, or to be the go-between on case-related emails from CPS and attorneys to the volunteer. Staff also conducts pre-service training for volunteer candidates in both counties, and in-service training for the volunteers in both counties.

On Aug. 9, the CASA of Palo Pinto and Parker County’s board of directors, with approval from Texas CASA, voted to combine the two CASA offices – a savings of about $50,000 annually for the local non-profit organization.

“We found that the office in Mineral Wells did not have much volunteer traffic,” said Tucker. “However, when needed, we meet with a CASA volunteer at the Chamber of Commerce office in Mineral Wells. The old office may be closed, but CASA staff’s desire to continue to be of service to the volunteers – and the children they serve – is wide open.”

Barbara Stagner, who was sworn in as a Palo Pinto County CASA volunteer in March 2011, agrees.

“The physical location of the office is relatively unimportant. What is important is that we continue serving the children.

“So much of the information we receive from the Parker/Palo Pinto offices is sent via email,” she added. “Likewise, we (volunteers) email our court reports and case hours to the CASA office. Our supervisor and office staff is just a phone call away.”

The CASA of Palo Pinto and Parker Counties’ office in Mineral Wells closed on Aug. 31. The two employees who worked in the Mineral Wells office now work in the Weatherford office.

“By having one CASA office, we have streamlined operations and feel we can better serve our volunteers,” Tucker added. “When a volunteer or anyone calls for a staff member, there will be no guessing which office they are in that day. Plus, there is no running back-and-forth for case records and administrative paperwork.”

Stagner agrees that combining the two CASA offices will result in better organization and cost savings. “… (In 2012) we faced closure of the Palo Pinto County CASA office, but had 70-plus abused and neglected children in Palo Pinto County who needed our help. We had to find a way to continue serving those kids so we accepted Parker County’s offer to merge our organization with their organization.

“As you know, CASA has had budget cuts in Austin, and by combining offices of what is now one organization,” Stagner added, “we can save over $50,000 a year in rent and related expenses. This is a small sacrifice and, at most, a mild inconvenience in order to continue serving our children.”

The office for CASA of Palo Pinto and Parker Counties is located at 701 Palo Pinto St., Ste. 701-F, in Weatherford. CASA of Palo Pinto and Parker Counties continually seeks citizens to become volunteers to advocate for abused and neglected children who have been removed from their homes.

For more information about becoming a volunteer, contact the CASA office at 817-599-6224 or email the CASA Volunteer Recruiter/Trainer at trishaduke@casaofparkercounty.com.