Challenges create need for CASA

Connie Swinney/The Highlander
CASA Volunteer Coordinator Diana Tryon prepared for a volunteer training session March 11 at the non-profit organization's facility in Kingsland, which featured strategies and curriculum necessary to interact with children who go through the court system due to abuse or neglect in the home.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Editor's Note: The following is part of a continuing series of articles which focuses on Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of the Highland Lakes and the latest statistics and challenges faced by the entity, children, in the system and communities.

By Connie Swinney

Staff Writer

Burnet Bulletin

Volunteering for the community takes a committed person, but dedicating time for abused and neglected children takes a superhero.

Court-appointed Special Advocates for the Highland Lakes – which services Burnet, Blanco, Llano, Lampasas and San Saba counties – not only trumpets the value of their child advocate volunteers but has sent out a clarion call for more.

“A person who has that heart, they understand that these children are grieving and they need the consistent support that CASA can supply,” CASA Volunteer Coordinator Diana Tryon said.

The non-profit entity, which trains and certifies volunteers to speak for the most vulnerable in a court setting, currently has about 60 participants, but forecasts a potential resource issue as cases continue to spike.

“We're getting new cases constantly,” Tryon said. “The number of cases grows anywhere from 5 to 8 percent each year.”

“It's hard for the existing volunteers,” she said. “We don't allow them to take more than three cases at a time. It's just a lot of work.”

Officials have tied a growing number of cases to drug addicted parents.

The vast majority of cases come from Burnet County.

“Almost every single case, the children are there because their parents are using methamphetimines,” said Glenna Hodge, community liaison for the Kingsland-based entity.

“I just did an analysis of the children we serve,” Hodge said. “The numbers have been climbing.”

The entity served 220 kids in Burnet County alone last fiscal year.

Figures from 2015 to 2018 revealed the extent of the climb in total cases:

•2015, 121 total cases;

•2016, 146;

•2017, 208;

•2018, 226.

In the same time frame, the number of new cases soared as well:

• 2015, 47 new children;

• 2016, 92;

• 2017, 91 ;

• 2018, 97.

“I would like to have a community conservation about how we can stop this,” Hodge said.

To coax more volunteers to take children under their wing and to assist them in understanding what the service entails, the local entity will sponsor an Interactive Session for potential volunteers.

“It's he first time we're going to try something that is interactive,” Hodge said. “We're going to do a hypothetical case.”

The Interactive Session is scheduled from 1 to 3 p.m. on Tuesday, March 26 at the Herman Brown Free Library, 100 E. Washington St. in Burnet.

“It's just really hard to get volunteers. The time commitment for doing this is substantial; background checks, time consuming and one-on-one interaction with children,” Tryon said. “Some of them want to help but don't know what that looks like.

“We do a lot of interviewing and discussion, so everyone understands what they're getting into.”

Some of the requirements for volunteers include:

• Extensive background checks and be 21 years old or older;

• 30 hours in-class training;

• 3 hours of court observation;

• 2 or 3 hours of homework time between classes;

• 8 classes; 2 day-per week commitment for four weeks.

“Once they're trained, we are looking at 10 to 15 hours per month from the early part of the case that they will be doing investigation,” Tyron said.

Once matched with a client by the child protection court, volunteers specialize in providing direction about healthcare needs, educational and legal connections for children.

The most important element of being an effective volunteer involves a wholehearted engagement with each child.

“A volunteer is someone who loves children,” Tryon said. “They have a heart for being involved with children and looking into their best interest.”

Following the Interactive Session, potential volunteers can commit to the next official CASA volunteer training event, occurring on Saturday, April 27 and continuing every Saturday ending on May 18.

Email diana@highlandlakescasa.com for more information and to RSVP for the March 26 Interactive Session. Also, call 325-388-3440.

To find out more, visit highlandlakescasa.com.

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