The Brazos Valley branch of Voices for Children recruits, trains and supervises Court Appointed Special Advocates to help local children in protective services find safe living situations.
When CASAs are trained, they are assigned one child or group of siblings and are tasked with the responsibility of ensuring these children are placed in safe environments. It is the CASAs’ job to act in the best interest of their assigned child or children. These decisions are crucial to the children’s futures, as the CASAs inform judges about the best likely outcomes for the children.
Director of development Lindsey Woods has worked at Voices for Children for a little over a year and a half. She said there are multiple steps that people must take before becoming a volunteer.
“To become a CASA volunteer, you first attend an orientation and a one-hour Q&A session about what the volunteer opportunity is like, answering any questions you have about volunteering,” Woods said. “You fill out an application online, you come in for an interview which usually takes about an hour.”
Ella Johnson started with Voices for Children as a volunteer, then worked as an intern and became the program director in November 2018. She said the preparation for CASAs after one has been hired requires a lot of time.
“In volunteering, you go through 40 hours of training, and then you get sworn in by one of our judges to be a guardian ad litem for a child,” Johnson said.
Woods said the program has grown since its beginning and has helped many children along the way.
“We had our first CASA class go through in 2001 with three volunteers,” Woods said. “Now we have a volunteer base of 159. In the past year, we’ve served 377 children, all from the Brazos Valley in this seven-county region.”
Johnson said there are many tasks that the CASAs volunteer do to ensure a good future for the child or family.
“They do their own separate investigation alongside CPS,” Johnson said. “So they’ll call the parents, they’ll call the lawyers, they’ll go to the kids’ schools, they’ll talk to their doctors, talk to their therapists.”
Johnson said the information that the CASAs gain from these tasks is then used to take their best informed opinion to the court and the judge regarding the best course of action for the child or family.
“They gather all this information about the child, about their family,” Johnson said. “Then they’ll write court reports for every court hearing, and they submit that to the judge and all the legal parties on the case.”
Emile Soulier, chief financial officer of Voices for Children in Brazos Valley, said he thinks the program makes a huge difference in children’s lives and can help prevent their situations from becoming worse.
“This whole thing means a lot to me,” Soulier said. “I went through the CASA training. I truly love the mission we have. I’ve done a little research about the kids that have been abused. They are in a bad spot. With all of that going on, without a CASA they will likely end up in a bad way.”
Johnson said she enjoys the work she does because she sees the positive difference the volunteers make in these children’s lives.
“Attorneys don’t have enough time to do an in depth investigation into all these cases,” Johnson said. “So for me, being able to see how important it is that each child gets their own person or each family gets their own person to be concerned about that family and what’s best for that child has made a huge impact on me.”
Woods said she was also deeply affected by her work with this program and has appreciated being in a position where she can help others.
“It’s really given me the opportunity to see how connected the community is, and how everyone plays a role and is willing to give their time and resources to make sure the vulnerable population is not forgotten about,” Woods said.