Giving Kids a Voice

We are looking for any kind of person who really cares about kids in our community and their futures,” says Kirk Daniels, fund development director for Amarillo Area CASA. The acronym stands for Court-Appointed Special Advocates. This national nonprofit trains and supports volunteers to be a voice for children in foster care, especially when children have been removed from homes due to abuse or neglect. Potter County has twice the state average of confirmed cases of
child abuse.

It’s easy to get lost in the system, so judges appoint CASA volunteers to make sure children’s best interests are always represented. Since starting in 1994, Amarillo’s CASA chapter has helped hundreds of children every year. The nonprofit covers Potter, Randall, Armstrong, Briscoe, Carson, Hutchinson and Swisher counties. Right now, those seven counties have more than a thousand children in foster care.

Around 250 of them need a CASA at any one time. But that’s too many to be supported by CASA’s 60 to 65 trained, volunteer advocates. 

“In a perfect world, every kiddo would be assigned a CASA immediately,” Daniels says. “Having that one constant is so important.”

Children in the foster care system face court hearings every few months. With assistance from a supervisor, CASA volunteers help prepare reports for a judge that are focused on the child’s well-being, care recommendations and other information. “If there’s no voice for the child, it’s easy to go through a whole hearing without [learning] how the kiddo is actually doing,” he says. 

The children CASA serves are in foster care already—foster placements, group homes, residential treatment centers—and it’s easy to fall through the cracks or within that system. CASA volunteers make sure their assigned child’s needs are met, following them through foster placements, social work and everything else.

According to national statistics, children with a CASA volunteer are more likely to benefit from therapy and health care, tend to perform better in school, are twice as likely to be placed back with their family of origin, and half as likely to re-enter the foster care system.

Daniels says becoming a CASA requires approximately 30 hours of training, much of which takes place online. “You don’t need a social work background or any knowledge of the system,” he says. “We do extensive training and pair volunteers with kids they can be most helpful with.” For instance, a medical professional might be paired with a child who has medication needs.

CASA requires a volunteer commitment of five to 10 hours per month. “You’ll be supported the whole way and we’ll work with your schedule,” Daniels says. “We definitely don’t want CASA to become a second job.” 

To learn more or volunteer, visit pleasebeacasa.org. 

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