Texas’ Child Protection System is Failing our Children
Vicki Spriggs, Texas CASA CEO
Texas is in the midst of a crisis that, if not addressed with the highest urgency, will create lasting damage for generations to come. Children removed from their homes are placed in a structurally unsound system that is meant to protect them, but in reality often subjects them to further trauma, abuse and neglect.
News articles continue to expose the failings of our state’s child protection system—and the system shows little indication of improvement. From excessive caseworker turnover and management flaws, to a shortage of placements due to increased removals, the system has reached a breaking point that is already resulting in more harm to children, and more tragic child fatalities.
In December, a federal judge ruled that the Texas foster care system violates the constitutional rights of many children in its care by failing to protect them from harm. Whether you agree with this ruling or not, the poor conditions described in the opinion are undeniable and heartbreaking.
As if this is not enough, the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS), which oversees the child protection system, has experienced wholesale turnover among its top leadership. Texas Governor Greg Abbott has appointed a new team to lead DFPS in the hope that they can begin to address the system’s failings. Texas CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) welcomes this new leadership, but we also recognize they face a difficult job as many problems are seemingly intractable.
We understand the issues are not all clear cut, but want to underscore several key shortcomings, urging the new DFPS leadership team and state leaders to concentrate on these areas which have not been successfully addressed through previous reforms:
- Targeted Prevention – We must use data more effectively to predict which families may need help, and provide intervention and services to these children and families.
- Additional Resources – Repairing the system will require additional resources to better enhance recruitment, training, manageable caseloads and adequate compensation for caseworkers in order to decrease the devastating turnover.
- Trauma-informed Approach – Understanding the needs and challenges of children in the system requires an understanding about how the trauma they have experienced impacts their behaviors and outcomes. We believe, based on years of research, that a system based on trauma-informed care is the best way to improve outcomes for children.
- Increased Capacity – In addition to the well-documented shortage of foster care homes, we face a critical problem of placing many children far from their home communities and schools, away from their families and friends, creating unnecessary trauma for children and decreasing the likelihood of restoring families.
- Equal Accountability – Abuse or neglect allegations in state-licensed foster care homes and facilities receive inferior investigations compared with similar allegations made outside of the system. It is necessary that ALL such allegations should be investigated by well-trained CPS investigators, not regulatory personnel, and paid caregivers should be held to the same standards as biological families.
In the midst of this turmoil, Texas CASA will continue to work with DFPS and state leadership as well as partner organizations to advocate for policies in the best interest of Texas’ children.
During any crisis, it is natural to wonder, “What can I possibly do to make a difference?” You can help the vulnerable children caught in the middle of this catastrophe by becoming a CASA volunteer. CASA volunteers get to know a specific child or sibling group in the foster care system and speak up for their best interests in court and other settings, helping move them out of the system and into a safe, permanent home as quickly as possible.
Golden Crescent CASA recruits and trains CASA volunteers to serve children in Calhoun, DeWitt, Goliad, Gonzales, Jackson, Lavaca, Refugio and Victoria counties. Take the first step in becoming a volunteer in your community by visiting www.goldencrescentcasa.org or calling (361) 573-3734.
About Texas CASA
Vicki Spriggs is CEO of Texas CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), the statewide organization that advocates for effective public policy for children in the child protection system and provides funding, training and technical assistance to program staff, board and volunteers of the 72 local CASA programs that serve abused and neglected children in the foster care system. Last year, 8,476 well-trained volunteers served 25,947 children in 207 of the 254 Texas counties.
CASA volunteers are everyday people who have chosen to speak up for abused and neglected children in their communities. They are screened and trained before being appointed by the court to advocate for the best interests of children in the foster care system. CASA volunteers work to move the children through foster care and into safe, permanent homes as quickly as possible.
Welcome to Golden Crescent CASA!
My name is Diana Sneed and I am the Volunteer Coordinator/Recruiter. I would like to share a story with you that may help you see how valuable a CASA Volunteer is in the life of a child in foster care. I want you to meet Hailey. Here is her story:
Hey! Let me ask you something. How was your holiday? Mine was awful! Want to know what I did? On the last day of school, I came home and was so excited about the upcoming school break. We had a small Christmas tree with a few gifts underneath. No one was home so I helped myself to a snack and waited for mom to come home. Finally mom came home and we talked about plans for the next few days, visiting family and foods we could prepare for the holidays. We watched a movie and then I went to bed.
I woke up to my mother screaming. It was dark and I could hear voices coming from the living room- angry voices, men's voices. My mother was screaming and crying. I was so scared. I hid behind my bed. I could hear sirens and the police banging on the door. There was lots of yelling and I could hear my mother crying. She was sending a police officer to my room to check on me. When I came out, my mother was in handcuffs and they were leading her to the police car. The police had also handcuffed two other men I did not recognize and led them to other police cars. I was scared, crying, confused and no one would let me see my mother.
My name is Hailey and now I am a foster child. That night was the beginning of a nightmare that seems to never end. That night a woman from Children's Protective Services took me to a home in another city. She said I would be fine. She said the people at the home would take good care of me. She said they would make sure I had clothes since all I had were the pajamas I was wearing. She said I would be fine. But what does she know. How can I be fine! I am in the home of strangers! My mom told me to not talk to strangers! What was going to happen to me? I was exhausted and finally fell asleep.
The next day was not much better. I was hoping when I woke up, I would be back at home and my mom would be making pancakes for breakfast. But no, I was still a foster child. I was in a home with 2 adults, a man named Joe and a woman named Sara. There were 3 other children in the home- Angela, River and Marcos. They were foster children too. They tried to include me in games, encouraged me to eat and Angela even shared some clothes with me. Sara gave me a new toothbrush and toothpaste of my own. I also got a new hairbrush. These were the only things I could call my own. I kept asking Sara and Joe about my mother, when was I going to see her, when can I go home. What was going to happen to me? Sara could not answer any of my questions. She tried to assure me that I was going to be fine and could stay with them as long as needed. How long was that?
Guess what? I have been here for 2 weeks! School starts tomorrow. New school, new teachers, no friends- I was not looking forward to this! Now I know what its like to be the new kid-everyone staring, sitting in the front of the class, the teacher making kids play with me. It was awful!
When I got home from school, a new Children's Protective Service worker, Ms. Jessica was waiting for me. She asked me how I was doing. I asked her about my mom and when can I go home. She said my mom was still in jail and did not know for how long. She said I would have to stay here longer. She said she was so proud of me and how well I was doing. What did she know! Doing well? Really? How can I be well! I AM A FOSTER CHILD! I want to go home! I want to see my mom! How much longer will this nightmare last?
Can you see how alone Hailey feels? Who can she talk to? Who will help her understand this nightmare she is living? Who will hear her? Who can help Hailey?
A CASA Volunteer can hear Hailey! Hailey can talk to her CASA Volunteer, tell her about the nightmare she is trapped in, provide a voice for her throughout this process. A CASA Volunteer is the one adult who is working for Hailey's best interest. A CASA Volunteer will let the Judge who is overseeing this process know what Hailey needs and how her needs are being met. The CASA Volunteer will hear Hailey's concerns.
The Problem: There are not enough CASA Volunteers for every child in foster care. Without a CASA Volunteer, children in foster care are all alone as they move through this process. There is no one for the child to talk to, no one for the child to confide in, no one to speak for her in court. Without a CASA Volunteer, Hailey's nightmare may never end. Hailey does not have a CASA Volunteer and we may never know how her story ends.
But, YOU CAN HELP! Become a CASA Volunteer! Make that commitment today!
Call 361.573-3734 for more information.
Hailey gets a CASA Volunteer...
Great News! I just completed my CASA Volunteer Training and am ready for my first case! After reviewing several cases, I chose Hailey. I have a granddaughter about her age and my heart hurts for her. I want to make sure she is well cared for until she is in her permanent home, either with her mother or adopted by a loving, caring foster family. My CASA Supervisor is Mr. Keith. We are attending the Adversary Hearing on Tuesday. In my classes I learned that one of two things can happen. Hailey's mother can attend the hearing and agree that she needs help with the issues that brought CPS into their lives. Hailey's mother can attend the hearing and refuse to agree to working with CPS and then there will be a trial. At the trial, CPS will have to show all the evidence gathered during the investigation and the mother and her attorney will be able to bring witnesses on behalf of the mother. The Judge will consider all the information and make a decision to allow CPS to have temporary custody of Hailey or to return Hailey to her mother. Either way, I am excited to get started. Because Hailey is placed in another city, I will be unable to meet her until after the Adversary Hearing.
Tuesday is finally here and I am so excited! I met with my CASA Supervisor, Mr. Keith, on Monday at his office. We called Hailey at her foster home to see how she was doing. Hailey was kind of quiet and reserved. We explained to her that court was on Tuesday and she asked if we would be seeing her mother. I did tell her that if we did, I would call and let her know. Hailey said to tell her mother that she missed her and loved her and wanted to go home. We also spoke with the foster mother, Sara, who said Hailey was doing okay. Sara said that Hailey had her sad moments but she was adjusting to her home and her new routine. Sara reported that Hailey was eating sleeping well and she was up to date with her medical checkup. Sara has made a dental appointment for her 6 month checkup and that will be in two weeks. But today I get to meet all the professionals I will be working with. When we arrived at the courthouse, we learned that Hailey's mother was in jail. She had been appointed an attorney who discussed her options with the mother. Hailey's mother agreed that it would be best for Hailey to stay where she was and signed an agreement giving temporary custody of Hailey to CPS. Those orders were presented to the Judge who signed the agreement and the courtroom portion was complete. Outside the courtroom, my CASA Supervisor, Mr. Keith, introduced me to the Attorney Ad Litem, Mr. Keller. Mr. Keller is the attorney for Hailey. He asked what we knew about the case and we reported that we spoke with Hailey by phone sharing what we had learned. I also met Ms. Jessica, the CPS worker for Hailey. She informed us that Hailey's mother was in jail for possession of a controlled substance. This is her second time in jail and she will most likely have to spend several weeks there. I left the courthouse feeling pretty good. I had met all the important people in the case and had a good understanding of what was going to happen next. I went home to write my notes to send to Mr. Keith.
The following Thursday, Mr. Keith and I went to the foster home to visit with Hailey. She had just returned from school and was eating a snack when we arrived. At the beginning of the visit, Mr. Keith explained the role of the CASA Volunteer to both Hailey and her foster mom, Sara. Mr. Keith began by telling them that the CASA Volunteer will visit with Hailey monthly. Those visits can take place at the foster home, at school or when observing parent/child visits. As soon as the mother gets out of jail, those visits will be set up. Hailey was excited about that news. She asked if we had seen her mother and was she ok. We were able to tell her that we had seen to her mother at the court hearing. Mr. Keith then asked if we could speak to Hailey alone so the foster mother, Sara, excused herself to the kitchen. Mr. Keith asked Hailey how she was doing and if she needed anything. Mr. Keith also explained the CPS process and what the next steps were. I told Hailey I would be visiting monthly and asked if I could call her. Hailey was agreeable to telephone calls and was looking forward to our next visit. At the end of the visit, I wrote notes about what I had learned and sent them to Mr. Keith. During the training I had learned the importance of taking notes to recall important information I might want to include in the upcoming court report I would be writing.
My First Visit on My Own...
I went to visit Hailey at school today. Hailey was called to the library and we were able to talk quietly. I wanted to get to know her better and thought Hailey may feel more comfortable visiting away from the foster home. I learned that Hailey is 9 years old. She has no siblings but is very close to her maternal grandparents. They live about 5 hours away and have not been able to come check on this family crisis. (I made a note to check with CPS about Hailey having at least phone contact with the grandparents). Hailey said she missed them and would like to at least talk with them. (I also made a note to ask if they may be a possible placement for Hailey). Hailey also mentioned a maternal aunt who lives in Florida but that she does not see her very often. (I made a note to check on this maternal aunt). In my training I learned the importance of maintaining family contact when possible.
Hailey is in the 4th grade. She says she likes her new school and is making friends. I have an appointment with her teacher during her conference period today. I will see if the teacher has any concerns about Hailey's education. I know that sometimes being in foster care can interrupt a child's education and cause concerns that need to be addressed. I want to stay on top of this. Hailey asked about her mother and I told her I had not seen her since the last court date. We talked about Hailey's daily routine and what her life at the foster home was like. She said she liked the foster home 'ok' but she wanted to go home. I told her that we had another court hearing next month and I would be writing a report for the judge to let him know how Hailey was doing. I asked if there was anything she wanted me to tell the judge and she said to tell him she wanted to go home with her mother. I told her I would let the judge know but that it may not be possible at this time. At this next hearing, the Status Hearing, we would be discussing 'homework' her mother must complete in order for the judge would allow her to return home. Hailey said she understood 'homework' as her teacher gives her homework sometimes. I told her to please be patient and do her best at school and at the foster home and I would keep in touch by phone or by visiting. I also told her that her foster mother, Sara, had my phone number and she could call with Sara's permission. We ended the visit by telling Hailey I would be calling next week. Hailey was happy to return to her class.
I visited with Ms. Martinez, Hailey's 4th grade teacher. Ms. Martinez stated that Hailey was quiet in class and kept to herself. A couple of girls in the class have been reaching out to include Hailey in group activities and she was beginning to feel more comfortable in class. Ms. Martinez also stated that Hailey was struggling in reading and math and she was getting extra help in class. If Hailey does not catch up, she may qualify for after school tutoring. Ms. Martinez wanted to give Hailey time to adjust to the new school routine and her new environment before making any changes. I told Ms. Martinez I would like to know of any changes in Hailey's educational needs and we exchanged email addresses and phone numbers. I thanked Ms. Martinez for her time and left.
I sat in the car writing my notes and collecting my thoughts. I wanted to make sure I did not forget anything as my notes will provide valuable information for my first court report. I am a little nervous but I know my CASA Supervisor, Mr. Keith, will help me. I am looking forward to making my first appearance in front of the judge. I will be contacting Ms. Jessica, the CPS Caseworker and Mr. Keller, the Attorney ad Litem. Ms. Jessica is very text friendly. I usually send a text asking her to call when she can talk about Hailey. Most times she calls within 30 minutes. I have been sending Mr. Keller emails about any information I have learned-just to share. I will be sending my notes to Mr. Keith to be included in Hailey's permanent folder. I look forward to our face to face meeting next week to share all I have learned. WOW! I am so excited to be working for Hailey!
Today is the Status Hearing for Hailey’s case. Several things have happened in preparation for this hearing. First, a PPT (Permanency Planning Team) Meeting was held. This is a meeting scheduled by CPS where the parents, CPS staff, participating attorneys, CASA staff and the foster parents discuss Hailey and her family and what needs to happen so Hailey can go home. This was held instead of a FGC (Family Group Conference) because Hailey’s mom has been in jail and unable to participate until last week. Hailey’s mom’s name is Priscilla and she has been in the county jail for 6 weeks for possession of a controlled substance. Priscilla got out of jail last week and met with the CPS Caseworker, Ms. Jessica, about what was required to regain custody of her child. At the PPT meeting, a Family Plan of Service was created listing several tasks to be completed by Priscilla so that returning Hailey to her care could be considered as an option. Some of the tasks included in the Plan of Service were 1)safe and stable housing, 2)financial able to support Hailey, 3) drug & alcohol assessment and completing recommendations, 4) psychological and completing recommendations, 5) parenting classes (including demonstrating what was learned) 6) counseling, 7) attending regularly scheduled parent/child visits and demonstrating what has been learned from various tasks of the Plan of Service, 8) scheduled and random drug screens, and 9) refrain from criminal activities. This may seem like an overwhelming list, but all participating parties need to be sure about there being a safe and healthy home environment for Hailey to return to at the end of this process. The Texas Family Code gives families only 365 days to make the changes necessary so family reunification can be considered if it is in the best interest of Hailey.
I have visited Hailey 2 times during this case and we talked on the phone 3 other times. I visited at the foster home when I first met Hailey and at the school where I also visited with her teacher. I have visited by phone with the foster mom, Sara, on 2 different occasions and have emailed the teacher 2 different times. I have emailed Mr. Keller, the Attorney ad Litem for Hailey, 2 different times and have spoken by phone many times with Ms. Jessica, the CPS Caseworker. I have also had 2 face to face meetings with my CASA Supervisor to share information and gain advice on my next steps since this is my first case. As I learn more about the process with this case, I am feeling more comfortable working on my own. It is a good thing I took notes after each event. I am submitting a court report for this hearing and I might have gotten my facts mixed up without my notes. Mr. Keith is helping me with my first court report. He sent me a template with all the legal items already filled out. I had to add what I learned about Hailey and her mother and make some recommendations based on what I learned. My CASA Supervisor made sure my recommendations were based on facts that I could document so the judge could be confident in what I had learned.
We are here at the courthouse today for the Status Hearing. The Court has several cases on the docket along with divorces and various other civil matters. The Judge reads the docket at 9:00 and then lets everyone know the order of the cases. The Judge decides to address several short items and will begin the CPS cases. This gives CPS and all participating parties an opportunity to discuss any last minute details and sign the appropriate documents. One thing I remember from training is to read the document thoroughly before signing. I must make sure I understand the documents and it contains facts as I know them. I am free to ask questions before the hearing and have the right to refuse to sign if I disagree with anything in the document. I read this document and sign as I have no questions. Finally, it is our turn to present to the Judge.
All participating parties move to the front of the Judge’s bench. We are lined up from left to right with the attorney for CPS, CPS Caseworker, CASA Volunteer, Attorney ad Litem for the child, mother, Attorney for the mother, father, and Attorney for the father. When it comes time for CASA to report, I get to tell the Judge what I have learned. By now, the Judge has read my report so I don’t have to retell those facts but today, I tell the Judge that since I submitted by report, Hailey has gotten her report card. She is still struggling in reading and math and will begin tutoring after school 2 days per week. Her teacher is doing everything she can so Hailey will not have to repeat the 4th grade. I also state that I visited with Priscilla, Hailey’s mother, this morning and got current contact information including a phone number and address so we can keep in touch. The Family Plan of Service listing the tasks necessary for Priscilla to complete was made an order of the court. The Judge made sure Priscilla understood the tasks and knew who to call, the CPS Caseworker and her attorney, if she had any questions. Priscilla asked about visiting Hailey and the Judge stated he wanted a hair follicle drug test completed before the visits were scheduled. If the test was negative, visits would be weekly and the CPS office nearest to Hailey’s foster home. The visits would be scheduled by a CPS Caseworker Assistant and monitored by this person. I asked that these visits be scheduled after school since Hailey was already struggling with her studies and that the tutoring be taken into consideration when scheduling visits and the Judge agreed. We were dismissed by the Judge and my work was done for the moment. I went to complete my notes about all I learned today and would submit them to Mr. Keith as soon as possible. I can’t wait to see Hailey again. I am scheduling a visit for next week!
Initial Permanency Hearing...
Initial Permanency Hearing is next week. I am reviewing my notes and preparing my court report. Thank goodness for these notes! I have met with several people, observed parent/child visits, talked with foster mom Sara, visited with Hailey’s teacher and most importantly, visited with Hailey, both in person and on the phone.
Priscilla’s hair follicle test was negative so parent/child visits have begun. Because of scheduling difficulties, Hailey and Priscilla visit for 2 hours every two weeks. Priscilla needs to find a job and visits need to be after school so timing was difficult. I observed the first visit with Hailey and Priscilla. Hailey was so excited to see her mother. There was such a wide range of emotions-tears of joy, excitement, sadness, anticipation for the future and sorrow at the end of the visit. Hailey had so many questions and Priscilla was having difficulty answering many of them. Priscilla was not prepared to share all the details about the incident leading to this CPS case and Hailey was hurt. Priscilla assured Hailey the best she could that she was trying to make changes and wanted Hailey to come home soon. At the end of the visit, Hailey hugged her mother and cried as the CPS Caseworker Assistant led her away from Priscilla.
I called Sara, the foster mother, later that evening to check on Hailey. Sara reported that Hailey cried herself to sleep as soon as she got home and did not eat dinner. Sara assured me she would keep a close eye on her and let me know if Hailey had any problems.
The next day I got an email from Hailey’s teacher. She said Hailey was being disruptive at school and picking on other students. This was not her normal behavior and wanted to keep me posted. The teacher knew Hailey was seeing her mother after school the day before and knew there could be some changes in behavior. The teacher suggested counseling to help Hailey process her emotions about her situation and her visits with her mother and I agreed. I called the CPS Caseworker, Ms. Jessica, and she set this up. Hailey’s life is getting hectic-after school tutoring, parent/child visits and counseling. We must monitor all this to make sure Hailey is not overloaded and able to handle all these changes. Counseling will help with this process.
I have observed 3 more parent/child visits with Hailey and Priscilla. The range of emotions are not as dramatic but Hailey still has questions that Priscilla can’t or won’t answer. Sara reports that Hailey is quiet at home after the visits and her teacher reports minor disruptive behaviors following the visits. I want to include this information in the court report.
I usually visit with Priscilla briefly after observing the parent/child visits. Priscilla reports that she is waitressing and finds it difficult to attend some of her services. I encourage her to talk with her employer to arrange her schedule so she can complete as many as possible. I let her know that Hailey wants to come home but we cannot even consider this option until the tasks are complete and she can demonstrate changes in her lifestyle. I will be monitoring as I want to make sure there is a safe and healthy home for Hailey to return to at the end of this process.
I have submitted by court report to my CASA Supervisor to be filed with the court. The Initial Permanency Hearing is next week and I can’t wait! I have so much to share and I want the Judge to know I am working hard for the Best Interest of Hailey!
Second Permanency Hearing...
The Second Permanency Hearing is coming up. I am preparing my court report. The notes I have been taking about the parent/child visits, visits with Hailey and Sara, her foster mom, and Ms. Jessica, CPS caseworker and Mr.Keller, attorney ad litem for Hailey and my conversations with Mr. Keith, my CASA Volunteer Supervisor, provides me with lots of information to include in my report. Many things have happened since my last court report and I want to make sure the judge knows what I am seeing and my recommendations for Hailey. I have been visiting with Hailey monthly and have regular phone contact throughout the month. Hailey has my contact information and with permission from Sara, the foster mom, Hailey can call anytime she wants to talk. Since the last report, Hailey has begun counseling and there have been improvements in Hailey's behavior after her visits with her mother. Hailey's mother, Priscilla, is also attending counseling and this is helping her answer some of the questions Hailey has about what is going on and why CPS is in their lives. I have corresponded with Hailey's teacher by email and she reports that Hailey is doing well. Report cards came out last week and Hailey made the A-B Honor Roll for the first time. Throughout this process, Hailey and I have spoken about her schooling and talked about the importance of doing her very best. I encourage Hailey to read every day and we recently finished reading The BFG by Roald Dahl. Hailey can be quiet at my visits and having this book to spark conversation can help Hailey open up. Hailey tells me that visits with her mom are going ok. Priscilla missed the last visit because she had to work but they are meeting next week. Priscilla is still waitressing and saving money for a bigger place. She is making progress with her Service Plan and wants Hailey to come home soon. I will get in touch with Priscilla and check her progress and what her plans are for the future. There are only 2 months left in the process and decisions need to be made concerning the Best Interest of Hailey.
I spoke the Ms. Jessica, the CPS caseworker for Hailey and her mother. Ms. Jessica reports that Priscilla had another hair follicle test and it was negative. Priscilla has completed parenting classes and has refrained from criminal activity. She is still working and attending counseling. According to the counselor, Priscilla has had trouble accepting responsibility for what brought CPS into their lives. Priscilla is staying with a co-worker and saving money to get an apartment for her and Hailey but there isn't much time left. One option Ms. Jessica and Priscilla discussed is Priscilla and Hailey living with Priscilla's parents. The grandmother had some health issues but is recovering and they might be willing to let Priscilla and Hailey live with them. Ms. Jessica asked if I could visit with the grandparents and give a recommendation. I am looking forward to the visit. Depending upon the visit, I would also like to get Hailey's opinion about this. I will also be discussing this option with Mr. Keller, Hailey's attorney.
I have coffee with Mr. Keith, my CASA Case Supervisor each month to discuss Hailey and this case. I use Mr. Keith as a sounding board telling him my ideas and what I would like to see happen for Hailey. Mr. Keith asks me questions so I can provide facts to back up my recommendations. This process helps me with my presentations in court on Hailey's behalf. Mr. Keith's questions prepare me for questions that the Judge or other participants in this case may have for me. It gives me confidence in what I am doing and helps others value my input.
I visited with Priscilla after work one day to check on her plans for herself and Hailey. Priscilla states that she feels she is really making progress with changing her life and wants Hailey to come home soon. She states that she likes her job and wants to ask for daytime hours when Hailey returns home. I asked about her living situation and the possibility of living with her parents. She said it was actually her parent's idea and thinks it might work for awhile. I detect hesitation in Priscilla and ask her what her concerns are. She stated that it was difficult to consider moving home again and wanted to continue to save for a place of their own. I think the stability of living with her grandparents will help Hailey in her transition back home. I look forward to getting Hailey's opinion at my visit next week.
I have completed my court report and submitted it to Mr. Keith for review and filing with the court. I value Mr. Keith's feedback with my report and know that changes can not be made without my permission. I will be able to update the court orally with new information I learn between now and court and look forward to informing the court of Hailey's opinion about living with her grandparents.
Trial on the Merits...
The State of Texas, through the Texas Family Code, give us 365 days to make a decision concerning Hailey's future. Working for Hailey's Best Interest throughout this case has been such a rewarding experience. I have gotten to know a wonderful 10 year old girl. Hailey is sweet and kind and quick to smile. She enjoys reading, playing outside and helping her foster mother with chores. Hailey does well in school and is looking forward to returning to her mother's care. We have discussed Hailey and her mother living with her grandparents and Hailey stated that she is excited about the prospect. I am relieved since Priscilla has not been able to save enough money to get a place of their own. I have visited with Ms. Jessica, CPS caseworker, and she states that she sees no reason for Hailey to stay in care any longer. She will be recommending to the court that Hailey be returned to her mother's care. Mr. Keller visited with Hailey last week and he is in agreement. I will be recommending the same orally to the court. No court report is needed for the Trial on the Merits. All attorneys and the judge will have the opportunity to question me about my recommendations. After getting to know Hailey and all the important people in her life and watching Priscilla's progress with her Service Plan, I am confident in recommending Hailey return to her mother's care. After discussing my recommendations with Mr. Keith, my CASA Volunteer Supervisor, I am ready for court!
I arrive at the courthouse early because Sara, Hailey's foster mother, is bringing Hailey to court. All participating parties will be recommending Hailey be returned to her mother's care but the Judge will make the final decision. There are several CPS cases on the docket today and the courthouse is buzzing. Priscilla and her parents arrive early and the grandparents are excited to see Hailey. They have not seen Hailey since the beginning of this case and are enjoying catching up with Hailey before court. Mr. Keller and Ms. Jessica arrive and we enter the courtroom for the reading of the docket. When Hailey's case is called, the attorney for CPS states that there is an agreed order circulating for signatures and will be ready to present as soon as all participating parties have signed the document. We all meet outside one more time to discuss any last minute details and make sure all agree that returning Hailey to her mother's care is best for Hailey.
Hailey's case is called and all participating parties meet in front of the Judge. The attorney for CPS states that we have an agreed order, signed by all parties, that returns Hailey to her mother's care and dismisses all participating parties. The Judge then asks CASA if I am in agreement. I proudly tell the Judge how I have gotten to know Hailey and all the important people in her life. I also state that I have watched Priscilla make the necessary changes in her life so I am comfortable with returning Hailey to her care. I have visited with the grandparents where Priscilla and Hailey live and see that it is appropriate for Hailey and that I definitely agree with Hailey returning to her mother's care. The Judge signs the order stating that Hailey can return to her mother and this case is dismissed.
Everyone meets in the hall outside the courtroom and make arrangements for Hailey to leave with her mother and grandparents. There are hugs and cheers and tears of joy. Although Hailey is excited to return home, she hugs Sara tightly and asks if she can still call her. Sara smiles and agrees. Ms. Jessica
will get Hailey's things from the foster home and drop them off at the grandparents home later today. I give Hailey a hug and tell her how proud I am of her and how she handled this situation. Mr. Keller and I shake hands with Priscilla and wish her well. Our job is done here. This case is closed.
Time for a new adventure!
If you are visiting our website, you are probably wondering about the CASA Volunteer Training. Here is a brief overview of what we learn in the 30 Hour Pre-Service Training. What?? 30 Hours!! Please do not get excited-30 is just a number. When you consider the responsibilities of the CASA Volunteer, 30 hours is just a drop in the bucket. I have been here for 4 years and I am still learning more effective ways to advocate for the best interest of the children in foster care. No two cases are the same so sometimes we need new strategies. We will be spending 12 hours in a classroom setting where we will be learning about the Harris/Price case study. Kathy Price, mother, and her three children, Ben, Robert and Rose, are like most of the families we serve. They have many of the same struggles as other families who find themselves in this position. We will be learning about the court system that oversees this process and your role as a CASA Volunteer. We will discuss the different allegations of abuse and neglect that can lead to removal of the children. The CASA Volunteer does not work this case alone. The team of professional partners consists of a CASA Supervisor, Attorney Ad Litem (for the child),and Children's Protective Services (CPS) social worker. As a member of this team, you will be making recommendations in the best interest of the child based on your investigation. The remaining 18 hours will be guided self-study. It will include reading the CASA Volunteer Training Manual, a 10 hour Online Core Advocacy Skills Training course, various online options, and a Book and Movie List of recommended resources. We will also attend 2.5 hours of courtroom observations. We will see active CASA Volunteers in actions and the court room process at work. We will meet other CASA Volunteers, attorneys, and CPS workers and observe their roles in this process.
There is also an application with references and permission to do the necessary background checks due by the 2nd classroom meeting. We will also be scheduling FBI fingerprinting (at no cost to you). We will also be scheduling interviews. Interviews are an opportunity for CASA staff to get to know you better, to see what types of cases you are interested in working, and an opportunity for you to ask questions about the process and our agency. When all the requirements have been met, I will schedule an appointment with the District Judge for a Swearing-In Ceremony. This ceremony usually takes place at the District Court where the District Judge will administer the Oath of a Court Appointed Special Advocate.
This may sound like an overwhelming process, but when you stop and think about the responsibilities of a CASA Volunteer, you would not want to skimp on any step. This process is designed for you to see if we are a good volunteer fit for you and to make sure we are offering quality advocacy to the foster children we serve. If you have any questions or would like to participate in the training, call me, Diana Sneed, Volunteer Coordinator/Recruiter at 361-573-3734. I love to meet new people and talk about the CASA Story! Let me hear from you!