HARLINGEN — When a child enters the foster care system because his or her home is no longer safe due to abuse or neglect, they become exposed to an in-depth and extensive legal process.
Often times, because of the sensitivity of the removal, judges will request someone to be an extra set of eyes and ears to look out for the betterment of the child during that time.
And that’s when the Court Appointed Special Advocates for children (CASA) organization comes in to help.
CASA personnel are currently seeking more volunteers.
The Brownsville-based, volunteer-led organization will host information sessions during March in Harlingen at Loaves & Fishes located at 514 South E St.
Training sessions will be held March 9 through the 12th and March 16 through the 19th.
Each session is comprised of 30-hour training.
According to CASA communications director Joe Medrano, if somebody can’t complete the training or has challenges with the schedule CASA personnel can work with their schedule.
“We are trying to create this interest for the Harlingen community because it has been now at least four years since we’ve held a training in the Harlingen area because in Cameron County the county seat is Brownsville,” Medrano said. “That’s where the court is and so that’s where many of our volunteers come from, but we are serving children in Harlingen.”
Medrano said it’s important that CASA finds volunteers that can work with children who are in Harlingen and Willacy County areas.
“Working as a volunteer for CASA is a unique, premier volunteer opportunity because you are working with a child and you are working with the most vulnerable of our population,” Medrano said. “They have already gone through the trauma of being removed and so our role at CASA is to ensure that constant in the life of that child for the duration that they’re in foster care.”
CASA volunteers visit a child on a monthly basis to ensure they are looking out for their best interest in their home.
“Our goal is not to separate families,” Medrano said. “Our goal is to advocate for the child and in the process our hope is that the parent receives the help and assistance that they need so the outcomes will be beneficial for the child and the parent.”
Duties and requirements
CASA volunteers will get to know a child and gather information from everyone involved in his or her daily life.
Volunteers will use the information they gather to report to the judge, advocating for the child’s physical and emotional needs.
CASA volunteers are able to specify the age, gender and ethnicity preference of children they would like to work with.
Depending on several factors, the average time a volunteer spends during a month is approximately eight to 12 hours.
According to nonprofit personnel, CASA volunteers do not need any special background or education.
Eligible volunteers must be at least 21 years old, able to pass criminal and Child Protective Services (CPS) background checks, willing to commit to at least one year of advocacy, effective communicators orally and in writing and willing to participate in an in-depth training program.
“We do encourage anyone who is from the Harlingen area or the surrounding area through Willacy County who has expressed an interest to give us a call or apply online at www.becomeacasa.org and that will be the first step in the intake process,” Medrano explained. “As soon as we receive that, then we will respond and that will give us plenty of time to go through the application process.”
The need for volunteers
According to CASA and Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) statistics, in Texas 56 children a day are removed from their homes because of abuse or neglect.
In addition to those 56 children who are removed a day, there are more than 1,250 teenage youth who will age out of the foster care system, according to the statistics.
“Often times they are left without a plan and what to do now that they are on their own when they become 18,” Medrano said. “One of our goals at CASA is to ensure that there is a plan for those teenage youth who are preparing to age out whether it’s a plan for college, work or some kind of continuing education to be able to support them as they transition into self-sustaining adulthood.”
According to Medrano, at any given time, CASA has about 75 to 80 volunteers.
Medrano said CASA’s network of volunteers is currently working with 88 cases, which translates to working with 213 children that are in foster care in Cameron and Willacy counties.
“That’s a huge number,” Medrano said. “However we are not able to serve all of the children who are removed from their homes because of abuse or neglect because we are looking for volunteers so it’s really important that folks get involved.”
IF YOU GO
WHAT — CASA organization volunteer sessions
TRAINING DATES — March 9 through the 12 and March 16 through the 19
WHERE — Loaves & Fishes, 514 South E St., Harlingen
To contact the CASA program or to fill out a volunteer interest form, visit https://tinyurl.com/r9tn7lq.