Our Partners for “dream”: CASA of Travis County

We’re honored to partner with CASA of Travis County for our upcoming presentation of dream. This isn’t our first collaboration – for the past several years, students from our guitar classes at the Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center have performed at CASA’s swearing-in ceremonies for new volunteers. We talked with Callie Langford, their Director of Communications, to learn more about the services CASA provides for children in the welfare system.

I’ve worked with CASA of Travis County for the past ten years. CASA is a national organization that started over 40 years ago in Seattle, and the Travis County organization began in 1985. Last year we had over 700 volunteers helping almost 1,800 children.

We speak up for kids in the child welfare and foster care system. We recruit, screen, and train volunteers to work directly with kids in child protection services. Our volunteers don’t need a special education or background to become children’s advocates in the courtroom, in schools, and in the community.

The volunteers spend time building a trusting relationship with the child. If something goes wrong, or if the child is scared, the child knows to call the CASA volunteer.

To help build a well-rounded picture of the child’s experience, the volunteer gets to know the parents, foster home parents, shelter workers, therapists, doctors, attorneys, and case workers. The advocate will see the child more often than most parties on the case, and will go to the courtroom and defend the interests of the child or sibling group about four times a year. Unlike an attorney with multiple cases at a time, our CASA volunteers are focused on only one child or sibling group.

CASA volunteers keep children in protection services from falling through the cracks of the system.

It’s really a big commitment. About half of our volunteers have full-time jobs, and they range in age from 21 to 83. They have families, careers, and travel obligations. We ask our volunteers to commit to the lifetime of a case, which on average is around seventeen months. Volunteers typically give about fifteen hours per month.

It’s a really empowering and very engaging volunteer job, and probably the most professional volunteer role out there. I’m always amazed at how many people are able to do their end, and how much time they’re able to give. Our volunteers are incredible people.

A volunteer once told me that “It doesn’t take up time, it creates a space. It makes your life bigger.” 

I interviewed someone who was aging out of the CASA system a few years ago. We try to help the children make healthy adult connections and go in a successful direction after leaving our program. This young woman told me that she couldn’t decide between going to school to be an attorney or an engineer.

I asked where she would be without her Court Appointed Special Advocate, and she said with zero hesitation, “I’d be in jail.” She really attributed the success and direction in her life to her CASA volunteer.