Whether or not foster care has directly touched someone’s life, it actually impacts every person in Tarrant County. Thankfully, several residents are stepping up to champion the rights and well-being of the most vulnerable community members: children in foster care.

CASA of Tarrant County provides unwavering support and advocacy for these children year-round, but during Child Abuse Awareness Month in April and National Foster Care Month in May, the nonprofit organization is shining a light on these critical issues that affect hundreds of children throughout North Texas.

CASA—which stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates—recruits and trains community volunteers to serve as the voice of these children in and beyond the courtroom. In a judicial system where caseworkers and attorneys juggle numerous cases, CASA volunteers offer a unique level of attention and care, ensuring that each child’s individual needs and circumstances are heard and addressed.

Meeting the need in Tarrant County

Tarrant County has the third highest number of confirmed victims of abuse and neglect in Texas behind Harris and Dallas County. Currently, CASA serves about 67% of the children in Tarrant County’s foster care system, according to Development Director Natalie Stalmach. These children range from infants to 18-year-olds, and 50% of them are under the age of five.

“We have a waiting list, so we have a need,” Stalmach said. “The barrier to serving more children isn’t the lack of kids; it’s the number of volunteers we have to support them.”

Who are CASA volunteers?

CASA volunteers come from all walks of life. They range in age, demographics and career backgrounds, united under the belief that children deserve dignity and empathy in times of unprecedented hardship.

Volunteers contribute around 10-15 hours of their time each month and have the option to partner with another volunteer to split the workload. Before getting started, volunteers undergo 30 hours of comprehensive training to learn about different types of trauma and child welfare laws.

“Every case is different, but it gives you an overview so you don’t have to be an attorney, you don’t have to be a social worker to be able to do this,” Stalmach said. “We give you the framework through our training.”

Each volunteer is also paired with one of CASA’s child advocacy specialists, whose job is to help guide them through the process. Training is ongoing and volunteers can call at any time to work through questions that may arise.

“You can make a huge impact with one extra person that is consistent in a child’s life who continues to show up for them,” Stalmach said. “They may not express it, but the difference is clear. It is life-changing for these kids to have an adult step in and say, ‘I’m here for you.’”

What CASA volunteers do

CASA volunteer responsibilities are multifaceted, encompassing both direct advocacy for the children they represent and collaborative engagement with various stakeholders involved in a child’s case.

“They’re an extra set of eyes and ears for the judge,” Stalmach said. “ ... They can make recommendations based on what they observe or what they hear from others around the child. Our goal is to get kids back with their parents if possible.”

In their roles, CASA volunteers act as family historians and spokespeople—learning small details about a child that make all the difference during major transitions.

“If they change foster homes, the CASA is able to say, ‘[This child] is afraid of the dark, and I brought a nightlight that will help bedtime a lot. [Or], in their last school, the teacher did this, and that really helped with their anxiety,’” Stalmach said.

Stalmach said a crucial part of a CASA volunteer’s work is helping all parties stay in touch during the judicial process, communicating with parents and relatives in an initiative called Collaborative Family Engagement.

“It’s an evidence-based form of working with families and empowering them to make decisions for themselves,” Stalmach said. “ ... We want kids to be out of foster care as quickly and safely as possible and back with their families.”

Here are 5 ways to get involved with CASA of Tarrant County:
  1. Become a volunteer: CASA volunteers add stability and comfort during a process that is unstable and uncomfortable for the children they serve. If you resonate with its mission, look into becoming a CASA volunteer today.
  2. Join the Young Professional Council: Young volunteers have the opportunity to help with outreach, networking and fundraising.
  3. Follow CASA of Tarrant County on social media: Follow CASA on Instagram, X and Facebook to find out about donation drives and Amazon wish lists for children in foster care.
  4. Tell a friend: CASA’s main avenue for gaining new volunteers is through word of mouth. If you can’t volunteer, tell someone you know about what CASA is doing in Tarrant County.
  5. Invite CASA to your community event: CASA staff love educating residents at book clubs, rotary clubs, Bible studies and more. Locals may consider inviting CASA to their events during the month of May for National Foster Care Month. As Stalmach put it, “The more people know about it, the more sunlight we can spread in dark corners of topics that are hard to talk about.”
Show your support during Child Abuse Prevention Month

In observation of Child Abuse Prevention Month, more than 150 pinwheels will take root in Southlake Town Square April 1-12, representing the number of children in foster care that CASA of Tarrant County helped last year.

The public can also view the Pinwheels Project in April at these locations:
  • April 1-14: North Richland Hills Library, 9015 Grand Ave., North Richland Hills
  • April 1-30: Bedford YMCA, 2801 Forest Ridge Drive, Bedford
  • April 1-30: Azle Lions Club, 412 Commerce St., Azle
  • April 1-30: Tater Club Learning Center, 340 W. Main St., Azle
  • April 1-30: Reata West Apartments, 1133 Boyd Road, Azle
  • April 8-12: Southwest Fort Worth Library, 4001 Library Lane, Fort Worth
  • April 10-26: Levitt Pavilion, 100 W. Abram St., Arlington
In addition to CASA’s Pinwheel Project, CASA will host multiple Coffee with CASA events and informational sessions during this April. Residents are invited to come-and-go to get coffee while learning more about the organization, and those interested in volunteering are encouraged to attend an informational session.

Here’s a list of the upcoming Coffee with CASA events:

Coffee with CASA at Local Love | Coffee + Art Shop
  • April 9, 8:30-10:30 a.m. at 4612 SW Loop 820, Fort Worth
Coffee with CASA at Casa Azul Coffee
  • April 12, 8-10 a.m. at 300 W. Central Ave., Fort Worth
Coffee with CASA at Inclusion Coffee
  • April 17, 8:30-10 a.m. at 101 E. Abram St., Ste. 110, Arlington
Here are the informational sessions happening in April:

Informational Session at the Southwest Fort Worth Library
  • April 9, 12 p.m. at 4001 Library Lane, Fort Worth
Informational Session at the Bedford YMCA
  • April 23, 12:30 p.m. at 2801 Forest Ridge Drive, Bedford
To learn more about these events, the services provided by CASA of Tarrant County or how to become a volunteer, visit www.speakupforachild.org.

The above story was produced by Multi-Platform Journalist Morgan O’Neal with Community Impact's Storytelling team with information solely provided by the local business as part of their "sponsored content" purchase through our advertising team.