CASA is a national organization that trains volunteers to advocate for the needs of children who have been removed from their homes as a result of abuse and neglect.
The Central Texas branch of CASA was founded in 1985 and serves children in Caldwell, Comal, Guadalupe and Hays counties, joining the more than 1,000 CASA programs throughout the country.
The program trains volunteers to serve as a guardian ad litem, or a legal guardian appointed by a court, and they are responsible for speaking with the child’s teachers, therapists, doctors and the child to determine whether their needs are being met.
“There are a lot of things that these children need while they're in [state] care, and CASA volunteers find out these needs and make them known to the judge so that then court orders can be put into place,” Hudson said.
In an effort to provide consistency for the children in care, each CASA volunteer is only assigned to one case at a time, Hudson said, which has made it difficult to assign a volunteer to all the local cases where one has been requested by a judge.
Because the population in the region is growing, the number of children in need of support is also growing, Hudson said, outpacing the number of volunteers available. The organization was able to provide a volunteer to approximately half of cases where one was requested.
“So our goal is to provide consistency for the children but that does come at the cost of serving fewer children than we would like,” she said. “Our volunteer numbers continue to rise but we still hover around that 50% mark [of cases taken].”
In 2021, CASA of Central Texas had 267 volunteers and served 620 children, up from 600 children served in 2020 by the same number of volunteers, according to the organization.
Norma Jean Cano became an advocate in October 2019 after she moved to New Braunfels from the Rio Grande Valley and saw the program as an opportunity to use her experience working in early childhood intervention.
She and her husband have adult children and considered foster care but decided CASA was a better way for them due to their work schedules.
“We felt like there's so much more that we could be doing and that's why CASA was so perfect,” Cano said. “It still allows me to have that feeling like I’m making a difference or contributing to differences for the kids in our community.”
Volunteers with CASA are required to complete a training program and several background checks before accepting a case, Hudson said, and all volunteers work closely with a supervisor who provides additional guidance and support.
Continuing education opportunities are also available for volunteers who want to learn more about the child welfare system, case management and more.
“I truly believe—like a lot of things in life—if you have a purpose or a calling, and if your heart is there and your interest is there, and you're willing to dedicate a time, then you really should do it because these kids really need that support and they need a voice,” Cano said.
Those interested in becoming a volunteer can learn more at www.casacentex.org.