By Paige Lambert
Larry Patterson finished his weekly tutoring session with his Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) child and checked in with the child’s teacher.
For more than a year, Patterson has given a voice to the youngest of the voiceless.
CASA of Central Texas, which serves in Caldwell, Comal, Guadalupe and Hays counties, recruits and trains volunteer advocates to speak for abused and neglected children in foster care.
Eloise Hudson, CASA community relations coordinator, said a judge calls for a CASA volunteer after a parent’s rights have been suspended. A judge decides to call for a volunteer if a case is high risk enough, or if other factors are present. While not every case warrants a volunteer, it opens an option for a judge.
“Anytime after the parents’ rights have been suspended CASA steps in,” Hudson said. “We feel every child deserves someone with the only goal of supporting them.”
Larry and Kathie Patterson, of San Marcos, have volunteered with CASA of Central Texas for over a year.
They were paired with a sibling group based on a number of factors, Larry said. During the past year, they have helped with paperwork, seeing that the kids’ needs are met and helping them with school.
“They are precious children we have fell in love with,” Larry said. “We just make sure the judge is aware of the child’s best interest, it can be an extensive process.”
Kathie said children are more apt to be lost in the foster care system without a CASA volunteer.
David Junkin, CASA board member, said he has heard of many cases where the outcome was not the best situation for the child even though each kid is assigned a child protective services (CPS) caseworker.
“CPS is very overburdened and seems to have a high caseworker turnover,” Junkin said. “I’ve heard of times when the mom used the kids as a pawn in the case, or where the father has.”
A consistent advocate is incredibly important for a child, Larry said. After the siblings moved in with a family, he noticed one of the siblings would benefit from special education, he said.
Larry said he talked with the caretakers, school staff and teachers to get the child the extra help he needed.
“I get 20 minutes with him while tutoring and I can tell a big difference,” Larry said. “Even his teacher is surprised by how well he is doing.”
Even though the nonprofit has over 200 volunteers, it can only reach 50 percent of the children who enter CPS, according to Hudson.
Currently the organization only has one facility in New Braunfels and a temporary office in the Hays County Courthouse.
“We are growing steadily but the problem is the number of cases is growing too and we have more children coming into CPS,” Hudson said. “It’s an uphill battle.”
Hudson said she hopes the future facility will help lead to CASA serving 100 percent of the children. The nonprofit has created a three-year capital campaign to fund the project.
After CASA lost the San Marcos location lease a few months ago, the board decided the nonprofit needed a place of its own, Junkin said.
“There’s a lot of legal confidentially issues that can arise, especially with children,” Junkin said. “As we all know if kids aren’t familiar with a place they may not want to talk.”
The new facility, located in San Marcos, will have multiple training and meeting rooms, he said. It will also hold the confidential files and serve as a place to report abuse, Hudson said.
“CASA volunteers are an important piece of the puzzle,” Hudson said. “They are going to be happy, productive adults and be able to take on the world.”