Child Advocate Program Seeks More African Americans

Casa, the Spanish name for house, also is the name of a program that connects volunteer advocates with children in the foster care system. In the state of Texas and the Greater Houston area, there's a tremendous need for more African American CASA's, and the people who run the program are asking community members to step up.

CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates. They aren’t paid a salary, but those who work with kids in the system say the value of a CASA is priceless. Vicki Spriggs CEO of Texas CASA explains why they are needed in the first place.

"The typical child protective services worker has a caseload that exceeds the normal recommended average.  And so they don’t see children often, they certainly aren’t able to advocate on behalf of the child, because they hardly know all the children on their case load."

The CASA is assigned to one child or set of siblings. Spriggs says the CASA will occasionally attend a court hearing to lobby on the child’s behalf.      

"If a child needs a certain kind of foster home, and maybe the state is advocating in a different direction because of what they have available, the CASA worker will be the one saying, 'But that’s not the kind of foster home this child needs. This child needs a foster home that focuses on these particular needs this child has.'"

The problem the CASA program is experiencing is the lack of African Americans volunteering.

Lanis McWilliams is the executive director of the CASA program for the Houston region. She says black children are over represented in the foster care system, even though black parents are not more likely than any other race to abuse their children. She and other administrators would like to see more African American men and women volunteer to help these kids.

"One of the things we want to do is make sure that our children have someone that they have as a role model that they look up to and that they can readily identify with."

McWilliams says many kids in the system lose their identity and lose touch with their culture when places in multiple foster care settings. This makes it hard for them to new friends at school.

"What they find is they’re not really relating to any of the kids. They’ve been taking out of their particular circle and group of friends and they experience difficulty forming new friends that they have anything in common with. And what they tend to find is the ones that they have anything in common with is if there’s another kid from foster care, because at least they have that one thing in common."

A CASA of the same race or color won’t solve everything, but the belief is that the child will have more in common with that person. Administrators say unfortunately racism still plays a role when it comes to how children are treated in the system. They say having more diversity in the courtroom when those decisions are made can only help.