Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Good Morning CASA

Good Morning CASA!

Good morning CASA lovers, volunteers, and new interest. My name is Jenny and I am one of the two new interns this fall. Hailey, my partner in crime, and new friend on the internship railroad, is wonderful and you will meet her soon, as we will be collaborating on CASA’s blog.

CASA is quickly becoming my new home full of teachers and caring individuals who love their work. The community of hard working individuals is not only office based. The CASA volunteers are a group of the kindest people I have come to meet. Thankful doesn't begin to describe my gratitude to be working with CASA. I can’t wait for our next event (UV Splash) to meet more of these sweet people.


Not that the new interns aren’t turning some heads but we have nothing on CASA’s next event!

CASA is hosting a 5k! The UV Splash Dash for CASA is going to get glowing reviews. This is Lubbock’s first UV Splash! CASA is hosting the brightest 5k Lubbock has ever seen. We are going to get dressed in our best neon and black light clothing and get covered in glow paint while running a 5k for CASA! You can join a team or make your own here! CASA UV SPLASH ( http://www.uvsplashcolordash.com/lubbock-texas.html )

This race is going to be amazing. Bayer CropScience LP,  and Fox  34 News Lubbock, have all worked tirelessly and given generously to make this 5k worth the run! You get an awesome T-shirt to run in when you sign up. There will be a DJ and a dance competition of course. A, whose brightest competition to see who painted and dressed up the brightest! Lastly, a super fun photo booth so we can all share the memories with CASA. We will be dancing and glowing the night away because this race is not one you have to wake up early and be ready to run at 5am… CASA knows how to party and is throwing a night time event! Registration starts at 6pm.

Now back to the interns for a quick finish. You can find me on the CASA Twitter, CASA Pinterest, and the CASA blog bi monthly. I post to the CASA Instagram with hashtags like #goodmorningcasa #CASAoftheSouthPlains and as of late, #UVsplashforCASA

I can’t wait to meet all the new volunteers and community members running for CASA at the UV Splash Dash! See you there!

Signing Out,

New CASA Intern

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The New Guy

The transition to a new job is always going to be challenging. Coming from a part-time job in retail to a full-time job in nonprofits signaled huge warning signs for me growing up in this world. Naturally, I was a bit nervous entering the new field. I recently graduated, so making a name for myself and finding a job was my number one priority.

When researching the position before and after I accepted the job, I noticed that I was the only male working in the office. I was a recent grad with youth on my side, so I entered the office with an arrogant swagger. I was quickly humbled into my position. The Lubbock CASA office was so generous welcoming “the new guy” with a welcome brunch, fresh picked zucchini, and tales of the pranks newbies receive.  I quickly learned that this atmosphere was different from any other. The ladies in the CASA office did more than enough to welcome me into their crew calling me their new frontman. However, the ladies did not give me a free pass joining their team. I endured my fair share of pestering, questioning, and, of course, my intense social media background check.  After being knocked off my high horse and regaining my footing, I realized I had plenty to learn about this new environment. Bridal showers? Birthday brunch? I have never “brunched” nor “showered.” (By “showered” I mean a party hosted by friends). The friendly, cohesive work setting these women have put in place is impeccable and I look forward to learning their lingo, gaining new friendships, and making a difference in the Lubbock community.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Norma's Volunteer Story Part 10

It had been four months now since the children were removed from Kathy's home. Kathy had found a new job as a receptionist at an insurance firm with the help from Anita.  When I went in to talk to her after a few weeks, she  had a totally different demeanor from when I first met her. She looked healthier and more confident although she didn't crack a smile in the slightest.  " I've been staying away from drugs Norma," Kathy stated asked as we sat down and discussed the final hearing ." When will I get my children back?"  Kathy and Ernie had been taking parenting classes for the past month and as of yesterday, Kathy had tested negative on both of her random drug tests.  I felt confident at this point in allowing the children back into the home. I slowly worked my way through explaining the process that was to come .

" Kathy, I am so  proud of the changes you have made thus far in anticipation of your children returning.  When we go to the hearing, I need for you to stay just as calm and collected as you were when I walked in this office. You have met all of the court ordered requirements in getting a job, staying substance free, and taking parenting classes.  If Rose and Ben are  returned to you, they will be monitored for 6 months by the department and myself to ensure that your lifestyle changes are permanent. Jason, Ben's father has already been placed on child support so that you will have a bit more financial stability. Ernie however has been granted guardianship over Robert.  I had every intention of reuniting your family but at the same time, I had to do what was best for the children. Ben has decided to stay will your sister for the time being. Although he loves you and his siblings, he chose to stay in the environment  he  is currently in.  He is doing better in school and has taken a special liking to  his art classes. You have visitation rights to him on the weekends."

I had mixed feelings  flushing through my body as I left Kathy's job that day.  Pride, happiness, anxiety. I was excited for the opportunity to be such a huge factor in helping this  families life get back on track.  I loved every minute of being the person who looked after the children and made sure their needs were met. I created a great relationship with the children and helped them through one of the hardest times their little lives would ever. I was a CASA volunteer. I was needed.  I was wanted. I had purpose. I was happy to be serving the children's best interest but for the first time, I realized that doing what is best for the children may not necessarily mean a happy ending for Kathy.
The final hearing had finally come around and I never realized how loud the ticking of the clock was for a silent room thick with anticipation and anxiety. As I was called on to report the overall progress of the family, my heart sank. I Began to give a synopsis of the children's lives over the past  7 months since they were initially taken. I began with baby Rose. While Kathy was  pregnant with her, she consumed a sufficient amount of alcohol leading to Rose being diagnosed with infant alcohol syndrome as well as serious developmental delays. While under the care of the foster parents, Rose developed a strong bond with them and was  being put through a series of  occupational therapy sessions. Over the past seven months, Kathy only visited Rose three times. The foster parents decided to petition the court for adoption. As I was going  on about Rose , I had a flashback. Two months earlier   I was sitting at the park talking in private with Kathy's sister, Carol. Ben had been staying with her  and  this day, we had arranged for him, Robert, and Ernie to spend time together. They were a few yards away playing basketball giving  me just enough privacy to check up on how things were going.  That day , Carol expressed concerns about Kathy's alcohol recovery. According to Carol, Kathy would visit  often on the weekends seeming to be inebriated. Whenever she came, the atmosphere was tainted as she caused fights, discord, and undermined Carols household authority. She also informed me that although Ben was doing substantially better, he had recently formed a habit of stealing from  her purse.

My day dream was interrupted as the head juror walked up to the judges stand to deliver the verdict, Those few moments seemed like forever as the past 7 months played out in my head. Kathy was a loving mother who had been working since she was 14. She had made a mistake, as we all do, but her's cost her children.  The jury decided that Kathy was not in good condition to raise her children in her home. She had been sober for 35 days now, but relapse is often apart of recovery and a risk that the children should be exposed to. When I initially became a CASA, I thought that in the end, the parent would always end up with the children back in the home but sometimes, the parents home isn't the best for the child. Kathy was ordered to pay child support to Ernie. Jason was ordered to pay child support to Carol, and the Adoption case date was announced as the case was concluded. Although Kathy was in tears leaving the courtroom, I couldn't help but feel confident that what was best for the children was done.



Thursday, February 28, 2013

Norma's Volunteer Story, Part 9

I met with Ernie and his mother so I could get to know them a little better. Ernie reported he had just received a job offer as a mechanic, which would be great to present at the next hearing. If Ernie was stable enough to maintain a job, he would be able to aid the children financially. Ernie's mother informed me she would be delighted to help Ernie with Robert and Rose, if in fact, Rose was his daughter.  Ernie expressed his excitement for getting to reconnect with Robert after the home study on his and Anita's living situation cleared. 
The same day, I drove over to visit Robert and Rose at their temporary foster home. When I first got to the home, the children were coloring and Robert seemed timid about speaking with me. Although I did come to visit the children, the first thing I did was speak with Anne Franklin, their foster mother. I wanted to hear her analysis of the condition of the children. Anne informed me she was worried about Rose's development.  She was nine-months-old but couldn't crawl or sit up on her own. She also never made any sounds except for when crying. I visited for about an hour with Robert and played with Rose.
The next day I drove to visit Ben, who was staying with his Aunt Carol, near Plainview. Because he was older, it was much easier for me to explain my role to him. Once inside and comfortable, I informed him I was here to listen to his needs and act in his best interest.  Ben explained he loved his mother and wanted to see her, but he was concerned about having to go back to living with her. He knew it was difficult for her to take care of them.
Ben wanted to live at his aunt's house, but he had taken on the role of caretaker so often when mom wasn't around, he feared what would happen to Robert and Rose the next time she disappeared.
I asked Ben to exit the room for a while so Carol and I could speak in private. I asked her how she thought Ben was doing overall. She said he seemed to love the open space the country provided and he got along great with his cousins who were of similar age. She had taken him to their family physician to make sure everything was normal and so most importantly, he could pick up his asthma medicine. Ben would be starting classes at a new school the following Monday and we were all eager to hear reports of his adjustment. 
After meeting with everyone, I called my CASA supervisor to discuss the case, ask her a few questions, and talk about my recommendations.  After much thought and deliberation, I thought it best for Robert to go live with his father and grandmother. I also thought Rose should be placed in the home if the ordered paternity test proved Ernie the biological father.  Otherwise, Rose should stay in her current foster placement and CPS should strive to identify her biological father.
After visiting with Ben and Carol, it seemed best for Ben to stay with his aunt. He seemed at peace and loved it there. Ben did mention he wanted to see his siblings even if he couldn't currently be with them.  The only way I predicted the children being able to live together again was in the event that Kathy underwent a substance abuse assessment and followed the recommendations made by the judge.
It really bothered me at this stage in her life Rose wasn't walking or crawling so I recommended both Kathy and Ernie be enrolled in parenting classes while Rose was enrolled in developmental classes.  Lastly, I recommended the siblings be allowed visitation with each other weekly and weekly visitation with their mother, Kathy.  
The next morning, I called the kids CPS caseworker, Bob Johnson. I needed to discuss the case again. Bob briefed me on the current standings. The current case plan for Rose and Ben was reunification with Kathy Price while the plan for Ben was for him to be adopted by his aunt. The results had come back and Ernie was determined to be the father of Rose, so until Kathy had met all requirements the court set in place, Rose and Robert would stay with Ernie and Dashee, his mother.  Now that I had spoken with all parties in order to gather voices for recommendations, I was prepared for the upcoming hearing.
New volunteer training starts in Lubbock on March 18. CASA needs volunteers like you to advocate on behalf of foster children. More than 500 foster children in the South Plains area went without an advocate in 2012. Call Peggy, our Recruitment and Training Director, at 806-763-2272 or email peggye@lubbockcasa.org to talk about becoming a volunteer. Peggy has been with CASA for 15 years and knows the ins and outs of our organization.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Norma's Volunteer Story, Part 8

This is a series about Norma, a woman who becomes a CASA volunteer. It is fictional, but based on real events. Each Wednesday we will update the blog with the next segment. At CASA we always need volunteers, but right now we are extremely low on volunteers and there are hundreds of children in the South Plains who are waiting for a special person like Norma......like you. Please call 806-763-2272 if you would like to be that person.

Day four training: Judge Perspective and Course Wrap-Up

CPS Bob Johnson:
When the boys finished the pizza, Bob helped them each pack a garbage bag of clothes and what personal items they could fit into it. They helped Bob pack a bag of items for Rose as well. Bob made a call to placement and Ben and Robert were taken to an emergency shelter and baby Rose was taken to a foster home.

It was now time to contact Kathy Price, the children’s mother. Whether the parents were first time offenders or veterans of the department’s protective services, Bob hated visiting the parents in jail to inform them a child had been taken and placed into the system. In the Harris-Price children’s case, this would be the third time. He arrived at the jail, sat down at the video monitor, and picked up the receiver so he could speak with her. Kathy unhooked the dirty hand receiver from the wall and glared at Bob on the video monitor.
"What did you do with my kids? They told me you were taking them," she yelled.
"Hello, Ms. Price. Your children are fine and safe. We found them two days after your arrest. Due to living arrangements and the fact that the children were left home alone, your children have been taken into the custody by the department,” Johnson said.
Upon hearing these words, Kathy could feel her anger, frustration, and sadness all coming to a boil in her chest. She wouldn't have had to leave her children if she hadn't been arrested. She didn't expect the officer to arrest her that night. She wouldn't have had to leave the house at all if she had enough food to feed two growing boys, herself, and her precious baby. She would have money to feed her family if the children's fathers would pay child support ....if she had a better job….if she wasn’t addicted and trying to make it day by day.
Kathy asked if once she was released from jail if she would get her kids back. Mr. Johnson said no- the next thing she should ask is what will happen next when she is released from jail. 

It was 7p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon, and Norma was completing her last day of training. Judge Hart, the local foster care cluster court judge, spoke to the group. He is the judge who handles all of the foster cases. He talked to them about what he expects in his courtroom and what the advocates could expect from him. Judge Hart reinforced how important the CASA advocate is in a child’s life.

She jotted down a few last minute ideas as Peggy, the facilitator of the training class, wrapped up the training.  Peggy explained that after you have completed the necessary requirements to become a CASA, your information is entered into the system to be used upon availability of a case. When the instance arises where the child has to be removed, a CPS legal proceeding begins. The court has one year from the date the CPS is named Temporary Managing Conservator of the child to determine the permanency plan through a series of several hearings.
The next day, Norma and the other volunteers arrived at the courthouse in Judge Hart’s courtroom. He swore each person in and gave them a certificate. Peggy took photos of the group and congratulated them on becoming an official CASA advocate.
Within a few days, Norma was assigned a supervisor and her first CASA case. The children had been removed from their mother due to being left alone and without appropriate caregivers. The two boys had been placed in a shelter, the baby was in a foster home, and the mother, Kathy Price remained incarcerated at the time of the placement of the children into foster care.
By Texas law according to the Texas Family Code, an adversary hearing must be held with 14 days of the removal of the children. At the hearing Kathy, Norma, Mr. Johnson, and the children’s attorney met prior to the hearing to discuss what would occur before the judge. Kathy would be given the option by the department to request a hearing, in order to provide evidence of why her children should not remain in the care of the department. If Kathy agreed the children should remain in the care of the department then there would not be a hearing of presented evidence.
Kathy stated she would like to have a hearing on this day and would move forward to represent herself. After testimony was heard the judge ruled there was enough evidence to prove the children’s safety and well-being was at risk, and the department had made reasonable efforts to prevent the children from coming into care of the department. CPS presented through Mr. Johnson that Kathy had a history of leaving her children without supervision and was currently on probation. There was evidence that supported that Kathy violated her probation by leaving her children home alone, as well as allegation of theft of the baby formula.
During the hearing the judge explained that Kathy could offer family members as possible placement for her children during the duration of the department’s case. CPS would be required to complete a home study on each home that was requested by any parent. Kathy presented to the court and the other parties that her sister Carol and a paternal grandmother, Dashee, would be her best options for the children.  It was also ordered that Ernie Price submit to paternity testing for the child, Rose Price. Even though Ernie Price and Kathy Price were married, Rose was born after the divorce and he is the alleged father to Rose.
Norma set up separate meetings with Kathy, Carol, Dashee, and Jason Harris. Jason Harris informed her he wasn't open for discussion because he no longer wanted anything to do with Kathy or placement of his child, Ben, in his home.  Kathy's sister had mentioned during the hearing that although she loved all of the children and wished them the best, she could only financially and time-wise, support one more child, Ben, the oldest.  At this point, it was looking as if the chances of the children staying together were slim, but it would be CASA's recommendation for the best interest to have the children remain together.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Norma's Volunteer Story, Part 7

This is a series about Norma, a woman who becomes a CASA volunteer. It is fictional, but based on real events. Each Wednesday we will update the blog with the next segment. At CASA we always need volunteers, but right now we are extremely low on volunteers and there are hundreds of children in the South Plains who are waiting for a special person like Norma......like you. Please call 806-763-2272 if you would like to be that person.

Norma’s Volunteer Story, Part 7
Day three training: Cultural Competence & Families
Day three of training was probably the most eye-opening for Norma. She had always thought of herself as being relatively open-minded as far as being accepting of others beliefs, but the term cultural competence was new to her. Cultural competence means just that: to be understanding and open when it comes to being introduced to a circumstance that differs from one’s own cultural heritage or background. There are so many different types of people in this world and we all have our own values and culture.
The training stressed the importance of learning more about our own heritage and culture and how it affects our day-to-day life. If we each questioned our assumptions and remained open to the differences in others, how much simpler and easier it would be to coexist without all of the complexities that ignorance, intolerance and closed mindedness bring to the fray.
Some families may be harsher in their discipline, while others are more relaxed. Some families may not allow their children to eat sweets or watch television, while their neighbors do.  There is no set rule that says one family is more right than the other. It simply lends proof to the theory that this country is a melting pot of cultures, values and beliefs. By becoming more culturally competent and aware, we can avoid the persecution and misunderstanding altogether, and move towards a more effective reconciliation for the torn families who need our help and support.
The trainees were given a picture of a family in their house that looked cluttered and chaotic, and were instructed to find the strengths of the scenario. At first glance, all you see is the mess, but as you look at the scene, it is easy to point out the positive points.
Every family who goes through the process of having a child removed from the home has some type of stress factor present. Sometimes stress is created by circumstances that seem unchangeable for someone who does not know what resources are available to them.  Often, it is up to the CASA volunteer to shift the balance of stress in the circumstance. This can be done most effectively by listening, communicating and understanding that different doesn’t necessarily mean wrong.
Norma was saddened by the number of children in the Lubbock area who are abused and neglected. She wondered if she could really make a difference. As it turned out, the speaker after the snack break was a presentation from a current CASA advocate.
Eric was a mid-twenties single man who had been a volunteer for nearly three years. His first case was two siblings – a brother and sister- whose parents were drug addicts. The children were taken from a mice-infested house with no running water. They were not going to school regularly. Because they were neglected so long, at first they had trouble assimilating into the foster home and school. Eric spoke with teachers, extended family members, CPS caseworkers and doctors, and attended every hearing. Because of his diligence, he was able to find an aunt who lived across the state and was willing to adopt both children. The aunt’s house was small and she had two of her own kids at home, so the situation wasn’t perfect, but the kids were loved and safe. He said the kids still were a little behind in school, and were still in therapy but doing well overall. Eric said the kids still call him periodically and he always sends them birthday and holiday cards. 
Next, the group talked about abuse and neglect child-related and parent-related factors. The most common reason in the Lubbock area that children are removed from a home is due to neglect. Some children are neglected because of physical or mental disabilities and some are due to chronological age or the child was unwanted. On the parent’s side, some of the factors include abuse as a child, substance abuse, depression or ignorance. The group also talked about the impact of abuse, neglect and being in the foster care system has on a child. They ended the evening of training talking about various statistics regarding children in America, poverty rates, hunger and welfare.
This really made an impact on Norma. She knew that even if she only helped one child, that making a difference in that child’s life would be worth it. What if she could help a child in foster care get to a permanent placement? Someplace safe, where that child would be clothed, fed and loved. Norma decided at that moment she had made the right decision to be a CASA advocate.
Check back on 2/13/13 for the next installment of Norma's Story. Find out what happens to the Harris Price children.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Norma's Volunteer Story, Part 6

This is a series about Norma, a woman who becomes a CASA volunteer. It is fictional, but based on real events. Each Wednesday we will update the blog with the next segment. At CASA we always need volunteers, but right now we are extremely low on volunteers and there are hundreds of children in the South Plains who are waiting for a special person like Norma......like you. Please call 806-763-2272 if you would like to be that person.
Day two training: Advocacy
On day two of training, Norma was the first to arrive. She couldn’t wait to learn more and Peggy didn’t let her down. Day two is what Peggy called “the meat and potatoes day”, when much of the in-depth training information is taught.

Advocacy was the topic for the day and they covered a wide variety of sub chapters that broke down and defined advocacy in new ways. The simplest definition of advocate is: the representation of a cause or person who cannot necessarily represent themselves; whether it is a cause that needs a chair or a child that needs a voice. CASA volunteers are the voice in the clamor of legalese and paper work; those who represent the child’s best interests, hopes and greatest desires.

These children do not understand the things going on around them. They have suffered some type of abuse or neglect and have subsequently been ripped from their homes. Even if the home situation is less than ideal, it is usually the only home the children have known or are even willing to recognize. Then, they are placed with strangers and sometimes changing CPS caseworkers, guardian ad litems, and even foster home placements. The one constant in this child’s life is usually the CASA volunteer. It is the volunteer’s priority to advocate for the needs of this overlooked child. A child with a CASA volunteer spends five months, on average, less time in a foster home than one without.

Peggy stressed the importance of confidentiality of the children CASA represents. She said you can’t even tell your best friend the details of the case. Peggy did mention some people like to team up with a friend or significant other to represent a child. Actually, there was a husband and wife who were in the training together right now.  She explained this would allow them to talk about the case together and tackle the responsibilities together as well. Norma scribbled a note in her training manual to visit with her friend Jennifer. Jennifer and her husband Michael liked to do things together.

Documentation was the next topic covered. Because CASA advocates are legally appointed by the judge and because of the legal issues of each case, it is incredibly important to document every single thing. Peggy said the judges in the Lubbock area have a good working relationship with CASA and they take the advocates recommendations into serious consideration. Those recommendations have to be backed up by proper documentation. Phone calls, emails, visits with teachers, caseworkers, and relatives, face-to-face visits with the child - everything must be documented for that child’s case file. Peggy said organization was key and Norma was an organized person.

Peggy talked about the types of cases next. They are TMC, or temporary managing conservatorship, and PMC, or permanent managing conservatorship. Peggy said ideally she would like all cases to be TMC. That would mean there is a 12-18 month timeline for resolution for the case and the child would be permanently placed into the home of a relative, would go back home to their mother or father if deemed in the best interest of the child, or get legally adopted.

Sadly, about 70 percent of the children in the South Plains who are currently in the foster care system are PMC. That means they will age out of the system when they turn 18 without being adopted. Peggy told the story of a child, who we will call Sally for this blog, who she fought for as an advocate. Peggy was Sally’s volunteer advocate for more than ten years. Sally was taken from her home at a young age and got moved around to multiple foster homes throughout her childhood, as did her brothers and sisters. When Sally turned 18 she was on her own, legally. Luckily for Sally, the last foster home she was placed in was a good fit and she formed a strong, loving bond with the family. And while only two percent of foster children take advantage of free college tuition offered in Texas, Sally is part of the two percent. She is now a student at Texas Tech University and Peggy is still in contact with her to this day.

The final thing Peggy talked about during day two of training was volunteer support. The reason the volunteer supervisors are at CASA is to provide training and support to the many people who are volunteer advocates. It is important for volunteers to communicate with their supervisor, and visit with them about what is going on with their case, how they feel and what they think about it. Because of lack of volunteers, supervisors take on cases as well and they can understand the situation the advocate is going through.

Officer Gooden/CPS Bob Johnson:
Officer Gooden had just gotten Ben and Robert settled down in front of the television, eating their pizza when a knock sounded on the front door. He went to answer the door and found a short, middle-aged man with very little hair and wire rim glasses standing there. He was holding a three-inch-thick file folder in one hand and the other was extended towards Officer Gooden.

“Officer Gooden?” he asked, “I am CPS caseworker Bob Johnson. We spoke on the phone earlier about the Harris-Price family.”

Officer Jim Gooden nodded and stepped aside to allow Mr. Johnson into the home. 

“I responded to a noise complaint called in by a neighbor across the hall. When I came on scene, Ben here,” he nodded, indicating the older boy who was trying to eat pizza, pay attention to what the two men in the kitchen were saying and stay awake, all the while, wheezing as each breath left his body. “Ben answered the door and said their mom, Kathy Price, left two nights ago to get formula for the baby and never came back. There is no food in the house, so I ordered a pizza and as you can see, it was a big hit,” he said with a smile. The smile faded as he turned his attention to the nine-month-old on his hip.

“When I arrived on scene, she was crying and in desperate need of a diaper change. I am not sure how long she sat in the diaper I found her in, but I called the paramedics out to come and assess her physical situation. They should be here any minute now.”

Bob Johnson was taking notes and listening as Officer Gooden told him almost the exact same story that been documented as having happened only a few months before. A few of the details had changed, but it was ultimately the same situation. He shook his head as he realized the children would have to be taken from the home this time.

He handed a  bag of diapers, clean onesies, sterilized bottles and formula to Officer Gooden so he could take care of baby Rose while he made some calls to figure out what to do with the three children.