CASA Volunteers Needed To Help Foster Children In Oklahoma
OKLAHOMA CITY - For children who are placed in state custody, it can be a very frustrating and frightening experience. Often, they are moved from one foster home to another, and must make frequent trips to court.
There are special people who can help these kids -- CASA's -- but there aren't enough of them.
‘CASA' stands for court-appointed special advocate. As an officer of the court, a CASA has the authority -- and the duty -- to learn as much as possible about the circumstances and people surrounding the child to whom they are assigned, and then reporting that information to the judge overseeing the case.
Their understanding of and attention to those circumstances is invaluable.
"This isn't a journey that you would ever allow your child to make alone -- entering a system of strangers," stated Lee Ann Limber, Executive Director of CASA of Oklahoma County.
There are 25 CASA programs in Oklahoma, but CASA of Oklahoma County is the busiest. The non-profit works annually with about 700 foster children. Currently, that advocacy work is handled by just over 200 volunteers.
Volunteers like Cindy Birdwell, who, in her three and a half years of being a CASA, has advocated for nine children. One of them is 15-year-old Treaveon Taylor.
"When I first met Trea," Birdwell recalled, "I remember it vividly, he had on a pink shirt...he was just as cute as could be."
That meeting was a little over three years ago, when Trea was 12.
"And he was, 'Yes, ma'am, no ma'am' -- the best manners," Birdwell said.
But, Treaveon says, beneath the calm exterior, was a burning flame, dating back to 2008 when DHS removed him and his sister from their aunt's home.
"They said we couldn't...stay in a house with no water and lights," Treaveon explained, "so they took us, and they said we were gonna be back in three days."
Two years later, Treaveon's sister had been adopted, but he was still being shuffled from one foster home to another. He was angry and pleaded with the court for someone to help him.
"Because I was younger," Treaveon said, "I really didn't know how to call anyone, and...just know how to speak for myself."
Without knowing it, Trea had asked for a CASA, and Cindy Birdwell entered his life.
"He had had a lot of people not be trustworthy in his life," Birdwell stated, "and so I had to overcome that."
Only about a quarter of the children in state custody have CASA's -- sometimes the judge will decide a particular case warrants the assignment of a CASA, or sometimes, as in Traeveon Taylor's case, the children or their attorney will request one.
Those familiar with the system would like to see more children be assigned CASA's because of the stability and security they bring to a child's life.
"They come in and do what parents can't -- or won't, in a deprived case," said Limber, of CASA of Oklahoma County. "Most importantly, they're the consistency, the continuity in a child's life, during a very scary time."
For Treaveon, that time now appears to be past, as he was recently given a permanent placement with a different aunt. He gives much of the credit for that to his CASA, Cindy, and says, without her, things might well be different.
"Like, I would still be in placements," thought Treaveon, "I just wouldn't just be at home, with family -- with my family that I wanted to be with."
CASA of Oklahoma County, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary, urges all who might have an interest in volunteering as a CASA, or finding some other way to support their mission, to visit their web site, http://okcountycasa.wordpress.com/