CASA exec describes role of advocates

CASA Hope for Children Executive Director Kathy Meyer answers a question at a Weatherford Noon Lions Club meeting Wednesday.

A part time job without pay may not sound appealing — but when it's used to help a child, the payout is worth more than any monetary amount.

CASA Hope for Children of Parker County Executive Director Kathy Meyer said the court appointed special advocates are really the core of how the program works.

"We are part of the legal system on the civil side of the child welfare system," she said, speaking before members of the Weatherford Noon Lions Club Wednesday. "Advocates are the guardian ad litem. They have legal standing and legal requirements in their job description."

Currently, CASA has 75 advocates throughout Parker and Palo Pinto counties and about 300 children in their care. Some of the volunteers are new to the organization, and some have been there since CASA opened in 2006.

"I could tell you that we worked 14,000 service hours last year, which equates to seven full-time employees, or the 146,000 miles driven on behalf of the kids," Meyer said, "but it's the advocates that make a difference."

Meyer described a longtime volunteer, Bill, who stayed with a family of children for seven years until the last child was finally adopted in January.

"When you come and join our organization, we ask you to stay the life of the case," Meyer said. "It could be 12 months, it could be 18 months, it could be seven years."

Another advocate, Laura, got on a plane with a child who was being placed with a family member across the country, but was afraid to go by themselves with the case worker. 

"Then there's Johnny, who will get up at 2 a.m. and go chase down a runaway teenager because he's the only one that teenager will call," Meyer said.

Yet another volunteer, Robin, stayed with one of her children through 16 different foster placements to make sure that child found a place where they could be safe and taken care of.

CASA is there to support families as well.

"The state makes a lousy parent," Meyer said. "As long as those parents can provide a safe and effective home and they are working what the service plan requires, the best thing for them is to go back with their parents.

"Once a child is in custody of the state, they're not always going to end up adopted, and if they stay in the custody of the state until they turn 18, statistics show that the outcomes are not always that great because that family network is very important."

CASA offers programs such as collaborative family engagement, which looks at the direct family of the children as well as their support network, such as teachers, neighbors and friends.

"When a child is taken out of their home and placed in foster care, they're taken away from the environment they're comfortable with and they lose contact with all of those people that they were growing up with," Meyer said.

Collaborative family engagement aims to rebuild that network to provide that support for the child.

Meyer said the agency is always looking for more advocates from Parker and Palo Pinto County areas.

"If you know of anyone that has 15 hours a month, we would love to have them be a volunteer for the organization," she said.

Advocates must complete a 35-hour training program as well as 12 continuous education hours every year. They will also work with a coach on a regular basis.

Anyone interested in finding out more about getting involved with CASA can visit casahopeforchildren.org or call 817-599-6224.

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