The Texas foster care system has been recruiting volunteers from faith-based communities for years, but now, CASA aims to do the same. CASA, which stands for Court-Appointed Special Advocates, is an organization that mostly works with volunteers who serve as advocates in court on behalf of children in foster care. The new program focusing on faith-based organizations is called Clergy CASA and Community.
Vicki Spriggs is CEO of Texas CASA and says the organization was created when a judge in the foster care system saw children coming into court each day without anyone to advocate on their behalf. She says Texas CASA has worked for some time to recruit more volunteers. Because faith organizations are central to communities all over the state, CASA developed the new program to attract their members as volunteers. Spriggs wanted to find a way to connect churches to local CASA groups, so she met with faith leaders in Texas, starting in January of 2018.
“The church is an integral part of every community…,” Spriggs says. “And we hadn’t been there in an organized, structured way that would provide guidance and leadership for the local programs on how to do that.”
Spriggs says she hopes people understand this is about helping the child, not converting or changing their religious affiliation.
”What we tell them is you’re not here to convert this child’s faith and it doesn’t mean picking who you get to work with necessarily because all children in the foster care system,” Spriggs says. “Obviously with an overrepresentation of LGBTQ kids, and children of color so you don’t get to hand pick… we’re going to assign you a child… and then your job is to advocate in that child’s best interest.”
Each CASA volunteer must go through a background check and several hours of training each year, where CASA staff make sure to emphasize that LGBTQ kids shouldn’t be told that their sexuality is banned by a certain religion. CASA currently works with some ministers, and hopes the new initiative will bring in even more religious leaders.
“Part of that training is what is and is not acceptable,” Spriggs says. “And one of the things that would not be acceptable is telling a child that their sexual orientation is not permitted by whoever.”
Written by Marina Marquez.