Each May, National Foster Care Month, Gulf Coast CASA officials take the time to raise awareness of the children and families involved in the foster care system and the need for more people to step up to help them. In January, there were 21 children in foster care. Three quarters have an advocate.

“With everything our world is facing right now, it might be easy to forget about these children and families and what they’re going through,” said Marian Bullard, Gulf Coast CASA lead recruiter. “But they need support from their community now more than ever.”

Children go into the foster care system when their family is in crisis. There is a common misconception that these children are safe when they’re in foster care, and no further help for them is needed. This could not be further from the truth, Bullard said. Foster care is important for protecting children temporarily. It is not, however, meant to be a permanent solution.

“Foster homes are scarce within our county. What some people don’t understand, however, is that too often, these children have been taken away from everything and everyone they know, including the county they reside,” Bullard said. “Research shows that kids do better when they can stay connected with their family and community, and kids in foster care are no exception.”

This is where CASA volunteers, or Court Appointed Special Advocates, from Gulf Coast CASA come into play.

CASA volunteers are specially trained and appointed by judges to advocate for a child or sibling group while they are in the foster care system. They advocate for the child in court, school and other settings; and get to know everyone involved in the child’s life, including their parents, foster parents, teachers, doctors, family members and others.

CASA volunteers advocate first and foremost for these children to be reunified with their parents whenever safe and possible. In fact, a core part of their role is to help create and strengthen a lifetime network of relatives, family friends and other committed adults who can support the child and their parents during their involvement with foster care and beyond – increasing the likelihood for reunification.

When reunification is not an option, they advocate for the child to live with another relative or family friend. They can also advocate for the child to be placed in a loving adoptive home. In all cases, CASA volunteers are steadfast, consistent presences for the children they serve, making sure they are safe and have the resources and connections they need to grow and thrive.

Gulf Coast CASA is in need for community members to become CASA volunteers, and with the current health crisis, the need is even more urgent, Bullard said. 

She adds: “The COVID-19 crisis is affecting us all, and children and families involved in foster care, “Like the rest of us, they’re facing things like increased stress, physical and mental health risks, reduced access to goods and services, and social isolation. They need someone on their side, who can help them feel safe and connected, now more than ever.”

Gulf Coast CASA is making the safety of its CASA volunteers, and the children and families they serve, their number one priority through the duration of this crisis. Volunteer information sessions, interviews and pre-service trainings have moved entirely online. In addition, volunteers are currently completing their advocacy duties remotely – visiting children and families via phone and video chat, attending court online, etc.

“We are committed to continuing to advocate for children and families through this crisis while ensuring their safety and the safety of our volunteers,” Bullard said. “I hope you consider joining the CASA movement.”

For more information on becoming a CASA volunteer and other ways you can get involved, contact Bullard at m.bullard@gulfcoastcasa.org or 979-240-1398. 

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