By CASA of Travis County
November is National Adoption Month; Austin will be celebrating with an Adoption Day event where numerous children will officially become part of their “forever families.” One of the groups speaking up in the courtroom on behalf of these new families that day will be Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Travis County volunteers and staff, who have been working with these children and families for months leading up to this important day.
CASA volunteers advocate for the best interest of children in the Child Protective Services court system, making sure their needs are met and they reach a safe, permanent and loving home. It is CASA’s priority to help a child be reunified with his or her parents when it’s in their best interest, but when it is not, CASA will work hard to help children reach a permanent home with relatives or adoptive parents. Here’s one story of CASA volunteers working to find the best possible adoptive home for a young boy who desperately needed their help:
Over the seven years Holly and Gavin have volunteered as a couple with CASA of Travis County, they have advocated for more than 10 children, yet Holly is quick to recall their most memorable moment of all: when Alex was adopted by his forever family.
Alex and his siblings were their very first case, and Holly and Gavin stuck by Alex’s side for three years. His four siblings were adopted by relatives and family friends during this time, but Alex, the oldest at age nine, was seriously emotionally scarred. Holly recalls that he’d been “truly neglected, being locked in a closet while his mom did drugs. We were working to undo five years of him feeling like he didn’t matter.”
“We were so nervous about our first case because it was before we had children,” shares Holly. They recall their first outings with Alex to places like Chuck E. Cheese’s. “He was so shy and had been through so much at that age, he wouldn’t talk to us and barely ate his pizza,” recalls Gavin, “but over the next year we became really close to him.”
Everyone knew Alex was smart, but it was discovered that he had an extremely high IQ. Holly and Gavin “realized he was taking everything so rough because he could internalize and understand what was happening to him and his family. He was intelligent enough to grasp all of that.”
Holly and Gavin stayed in regular contact with Alex. They made sure he had resources that allowed him to grow self-confidence and let him know people were proud of him for doing well. During this time, Holly and Gavin were the most consistent part of Alex’s life. Holly recalls, “His CPS supervisor changed, his case worker changed three times, the attorney changed and his placement changed.” With their support, Alex flourished and it was finally time to find the right adoptive family.
Many factors add up to a perfect home for a child. In addition to loving parents, Holly and Gavin were seeking the developmental support Alex needed to best utilize his natural intelligence. When they learned of a family with a father who worked at a college, they knew that being exposed to a higher education setting would be really good for Alex. “We felt this family would be better equipped to tap into Alex’s natural abilities,” shares Gavin. In addition, the mother in this family had been adopted herself. “Alex was old enough to realize that family members had adopted other siblings and not him. We thought it would help him to be able to relate to his new mom knowing she’d been adopted as well,” Holly explains.
Holly remembers how she cried on adoption day. “We were really happy for him to finally be out of the system. He’d been in there his whole life, in and out of the system from age two.”
“I have no doubt he will be a success in life,” she continues. “I’m so grateful we saw him through and got to be there to finally celebrate his adoption into a permanent and loving family.”
CASA of Travis County believes every child who has been abused or neglected deserves to have a dedicated advocate speaking up for his or her best interest in court, at school and in our community. To accomplish this, CASA educates and empowers community volunteers, like Holly and Gavin, who ensure each child’s needs remain a priority in an over-burdened child welfare system. When the state steps in to protect a child’s safety because the people responsible for protecting him have not, a judge appoints a trained CASA volunteer to make independent and informed recommendations and help the judge decide what’s best for the child.
CASA volunteers come from every walk of life and share a commitment to improving children’s lives, a willingness to learn and an open mind towards life experiences different from their own.
Volunteers complete an interview, background checks and 33 hours of intensive training and courtroom observation. After being sworn-in by a judge, volunteers are appointed to a child or family of children and spend an average of 15 to 20 hours a month advocating for these children for at least a year. They get to know the child while also gathering information from the child’s family, teachers, doctors, caregivers and anyone else involved in the child’s life.
According to National CASA, children with CASA volunteers are more likely to be reunited with their family, receive therapy, health care and education and do better in school, and are less likely to be bounced from one place to another or stay in long-term foster care. CASA of Travis County’s vision is to provide a volunteer advocate for every child in need in our community. Last year, 650 children still needed a volunteer to speak up for them.
The annual Austin Adoption Day event is hosted through a collaborative partnership between the Austin Bar Association, Austin Bar Foundation, Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, Adoption Coalition of Texas, CASA of Travis County, Travis County Juvenile Justice Division, Travis County office of Child Representation and Travis County Children’s Protective Services Board. This magical day for families always features a “no place like home” Wizard of Oz theme complete with the cast of characters, a golden-brick road, a rainbow of balloons and courtrooms filled with stuffed animals that each child chooses to take to his or her forever home. Visit www.casatravis.org for more information on volunteering with or supporting CASA of Travis County.