Hope should not be another four-letter word.
This is the motto of CASA of Tarrant County, an organization committed to giving a voice to children who cannot speak for themselves. As CASA of Tarrant County prepares to commemorate its 30th anniversary, those involved with the project — organizers, volunteers, staff and community advocates — agree that the task of serving area abused and neglected children is as critical now as it was then.
CASA — Court Appointed Special Advocates — of Tarrant County trains volunteers to represent children in the foster care system. Together with judges, attorneys and Child Protective Services (CPS), CASA’s trained volunteers research and get to know abused and neglected children. They then serve as their voice in court, keeping the child’s circumstances, preferences and ultimate best interests at the forefront of the case.
The organization works closely with members of the legal system as well as CPS, said Cherine Murray, CASA of Tarrant County communications specialist. But, she explains, it is the court-appointed volunteers who often have the greatest impact upon children in need.
“CASA’s volunteer advocates go beyond the courtroom … to find out what is really going on in the life of an abused and neglected child,” she said. “Amidst changes in foster homes, schools and social workers, the volunteer advocate is often the only constant in that child’s life.”
Judge Scott Moore, local CPS Director Wayne Hairgrove and community volunteers Monna Loftis and Rhoda Bernstein founded CASA of Tarrant County in 1983. After learning of a pilot program that advocated for children in need in Seattle, the group formed a steering committee to bring the project to North Texas.
Thirty years later, CASA of Tarrant County is a thriving part of the community with its volunteer advocates tirelessly navigating an often-tumultuous family court system. This is why, says Murray, community volunteers are critical to CASA’s efforts. “This year alone, a record number of 305 volunteer advocates have attended over 1,800 court hearings and have helped 740 children,” she said.
Founding member Bernstein says the idea of a legal advocacy group for area children was the motivation behind the group’s efforts. “It looked like a very worthwhile project and something that was very much needed in Tarrant County.” And she said, “We felt like CASA could really help the kids here — that was more than enough motivation to get it going.”
Looking back over the past 30 years, the founders say they had no idea what CASA would someday become, says Bernstein, who now serves in an advisory role. “I didn’t realize how impressive the project and the people were when I did it,” she says. “One of the most worthwhile things is to know what the organization has accomplished and how many children have been served.”
While society has changed greatly since 1983, the invaluable role of the CASA of Tarrant County and its child advocates remains the same. “These people give tirelessly of themselves — otherwise CASA would not exist,” says Bernstein.
And neither would hope.