Investing in children pays off

By Rosanne Lewis

Dallas CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) recruited the highest number of volunteer child advocates in the agency’s 40-year history in 2020.

Dallas CASA was able to recruit, train and swear in a record-breaking 472 new volunteer advocates. This represents more new volunteers than in any other year in the agency’s history, despite the global pandemic. In 2020, Dallas CASA served nearly 3,400 children with more than 1,500 volunteer advocates.

Dallas CASA recruits, trains and supervises community members to serve as volunteer advocates for children living in the protective care of the state. The agency’s volunteers advocate for the best interests of these children amidst an overwhelmed child welfare system.

“Dallas CASA has always been special because we serve in Dallas, a city of people who care deeply for each other,” Kathleen M. LaValle said. “That citizens of Dallas would respond to a global pandemic with a surge of energy to serve the most vulnerable among us is truly a testament to our community and its priorities.”

Once the pandemic began, Dallas CASA quickly and effectively transitioned the agency’s 30-hour in-person training program to a robust, highly interactive program that combined on-line learning with interactive Zoom sessions and one-on-one online interactions between staff and trainees. After completing training, volunteers were sworn in by judges during online court sessions and were then available to be appointed to Child Protective Services (CPS) cases.

Dallas CASA began in 1980 as one of three pilot programs in the country. From an initial class of 10 volunteers, Dallas CASA has grown to be the largest of more than 900-plus CASA programs in the country, serving more children with volunteer advocates than any other CASA program. Dallas CASA volunteers attend court hearings, visit the child or children they are assigned to monthly and work with judges, attorneys, CPS and other stakeholders to ensure medical and therapeutic needs are being met. Ultimately, the goal is a permanent home whether through reunification with family or, when reunification is not possible, adoption or permanent placement.

Dallas CASA board member Janice Z. Davis recently completed the online training, was sworn in and accepted her first case.

“What drew me to Dallas CASA is the belief that our children deserve our very best,” Davis said. “An investment in young people today is ultimately an investment in the future of our city. We want every child to dream big.”