EDITOR'S NOTE: The Texas foster care system has been in headlines all over the state. There has been a shortage of foster families and an increase in the number of children removed, which means children are having to spend the night in CPS offices on makeshift beds while they wait for a safe place to go. Buckner is a leading foster care and adoption agency in Texas and as Christians, we feel compelled to respond by bringing awareness to the issues, dispelling stigmas and giving tangible ways for you to help a hurting child who needs a warm bed and loving family. See full coverage of the crisis here.
What can I do? I found myself asking this question as I heard stories of the foster care crisis from friends, the news and social media.
It is a crisis. There are children, right here in Texas, who are being removed from a hostile and dangerous situation, only to be forced to sleep in an office until a foster home becomes available.
I was overwhelmed with this information and left with two choices. One, let the fact that I am in my mid-20s, unmarried and work full time be my scapegoat or two, do something. I really feel that as believers and followers of Christ, it is our duty to pray for and fight against injustice, especially when it involves God's image bearers – his precious children. But then again, what can I do?
I allowed life to move on and pushed these thoughts to the back burner. One day, I found myself having coffee with a dear friend who is involved in family law. She was going on and on about how much she valued the opinions and support of the Court Appointed Special Advocates on her cases. I immediately went home and did a Google search on CASA. A light bulb went off. This is what I can do!
The next thing I knew, I ended up in an information session followed by an intense 30-hour training program on becoming a CASA volunteer. When I completed my training in Dallas in May 2015, there were only CASAs for half of the children within the foster care system. Simply put, many children were not given an advocate. This is a heartbreaking reality.
As a CASA, you are appointed by the judge to advocate for the best interests of abused and neglected children, helping children gain safe, permanent homes as quickly as possible. This became all too real to me upon the assignment of my first case. I stood in that courtroom before the judge, pledging that my paramount concern would the best interests of these children.
I am a different person than when I started with CASA. The past year has pushed me out of my comfort zone, allowed me to build relationships with people and families I may never have had the chance to meet prior. I’m about to finish my first case where two precious children will be adopted and find their forever home. There is nothing sweeter than this. All the frustration, fatigue, discomfort and work were worth it.
The experience and knowledge I’ve gained around the foster care system through CASA has changed my perspective and I have realized it is something that needs to be brought to light in our community and society. Case workers are overloaded and at capacity, funds and resources are limited, there is a low number of foster parents and children are losing their voice.
Being a CASA allows you to give those children their voices back. It allows you to be one of the only constant people in their life while the rest are in and out. It allows you to encourage and show love in the darkest parts of their life.
We live in a broken, messy world. It is easy to look at the darkness, become overwhelmed and complacent – I did. However, these children need us. The situations they have been placed in and environments that are their “normal” are hard to swallow. We can’t change a child’s past, but we can help change their future. It may not be easy, but it’s the least that I – we – can do.
SaraBeth Tunnell is a CASA volunteer and project coordinator for Buckner Shoes for Orphan Souls.