By Kim Hilsenbeck
Over the past 12-13 years, Tracy McGinty has helped children in Texas by becoming a court-appointed special advocate (CASA). Though a volunteer, it’s been like a second career for McGinty, who moved to Kyle about six years ago.
Following retirement from the El Paso Fire Department where he was an assistant chief, he headed east.
“I followed grandbabies here,” he said earlier this year.
CASA volunteers work on behalf of a child or children involved in legal cases. Typically, the children are in a foster care situation and the court appoints a CASA to advocate what is in the best interest of the children.
After 40 to 60 hours of training, CASA volunteers are prepared to go to work.
McGinty said a CASA can decide what is best for their clients based on their training and talking with the children involved in the dispute.
“Then we stand up and argue that to judge,” he said.
In some cases, he said what’s best is to reunite the child or children with the family. But sometimes, that isn’t his recommendation.
One of his most difficult cases was in El Paso. He was a CASA for a nine- and a 10-year-old brother and sister.
“They were removed from the home for suspected sexual abuse,” McGinty said. “They had a hard time being taken away from home. All children love their parents no matter what happened.”
Several months into being their CASA, McGinty visited the children at a foster home.
He said the foster mother asked the little girl, “You want to tell Tracy what happened to you?”
She proceeded to tell him what happened to her by her dad.
“That was the hardest thing I’ve ever heard,” McGinty said. “She was asking me to protect her.”
In the end, and in part because of McGinty’s role as a CASA, the court terminated the father’s parental rights completely.
On a brighter note, McGinty talked about another case. He said a little girl about four years old was adopted by the foster family which took care of her during her legal proceedings.
“She had been ignored from birth and raised by older brothers,” he recalled. “They stole food to bring home for their sister. The little girl couldn’t communicate.”
She was put into foster care with a family that had a daughter.
“She would mimic the older girl,” McGinty said.
At the end of that case, the girl invited him to her adoption ceremony.
And while foster families can be wonderful, McGinty said he’s also seen a few cases where he suspected the foster parents were only involved for the money they receive each month for taking care of children.
“I’ve had suspicions about some fosters only in it for money,” he said.
Over the years, McGinty has shelled out some of his own money for his appointees. He also helps them find clothes and school supplies.
“I’ve bought them shoes, given them money,” he said.
Sometimes he gets reimbursed for necessities he purchases for his clients.
He originally got into being a CASA because he was looking for something to give back to the community.
“I was very blessed with my job,” he said.
Since he loves kids, he decided becoming a CASA was his best option.
How does he explain what a CASA does?
“I like to tell people I think CASAs prevent children from falling through the cracks,” he said. “We keep [the children] on a steady course.”
McGinty said CASAs are important because the system is overworked.
“The child welfare system and CPS case workers are way overloaded. Attorneys are overloaded.”
And he said because a CASA usually only represents one family at a time, “Things do not fall through the cracks — a CASA won’t let them.”