ev. James McDonald and Chadwick Sapenter Share Their Story About Growing Up in Foster Care
Austin, Texas- Court Appointed Special Advocates® (CASA) and CASA programs from throughout Central Texas are reaching out to churches and community leaders to raise awareness about the desperate need to recruit volunteers, specifically African-American volunteers, to help abused and neglected children in and around Austin and the surrounding counties. Today, CASA kicked off a recruitment event at the student union at Huston-Tillotson University.
“We believe African-American communities are deeply committed, concerned and want to make a difference for children in Central Texas,” said Vicki Spriggs, Texas CASA CEO.
Right now in the central Texas region, 33 percent of the children served by CASA are African-American while only 6 percent of the volunteers are African-American.
Children benefit from a one-on-one relationship with a caring, supportive adult and it can lead to positive changes in a child’s life. Also, African-American volunteers are more likely to be sensitive to cultural differences the kids face when placed with a foster family that is not from a similar background. CASA volunteers are often the one constant in a child’s life as he or she goes through foster care.
“We believe by working with pastors and other leaders in our communities we can find community members who may be volunteers willing to help children,” said Spriggs.
“I know firsthand, these children need someone they can count on as a former foster child myself,” said Rev. James McDonald, Pastor of the Damascus Road Christian Church in Cedar Park, Texas. “CASA volunteers do this every day, but we need more good people to speak up for children. Consider becoming a CASA volunteer or supporter. You will make a lifelong difference in a child’s life and your own.”
Chadwick Sapenter is an example of how a CASA volunteer can change a child’s life. Chadwick’s drug addict father died, his mom had mental problems and drug addictions. He spent his childhood trying to raise his two younger brothers in an unimaginable environment of neglect and abuse. Sapenter ended up in foster care. A CASA volunteer saved his life by speaking up for him in court, mentoring him, caring about him and insisting that he could achieve anything in life he wanted.
Sapenter’s message is motivational for other children with less-than-perfect lives and advocates who devote their careers and volunteer hours to help them. “It’s not about what happens to you, it’s about how you catch it and throw it back,” Sapenter said. “Life is going to happen. Things go on, and you have to adjust.”
CASA volunteers advocate for the best interest of African-American children in court and beyond, but the numbers are staggering when it comes to the need for African-American volunteers.
“Together, through advocacy and partnership, we can make a difference providing advocates who ensure safe, permanent homes for African- American children in Texas,” said Spriggs.
Volunteers are needed to help protect Texas children in foster care. In 2011, 239 Texas children died of abuse and neglect in Texas, 27 of those were from central Texas.
Larry Comer, a CASA volunteer from Travis County, is one of those caring and compassionate advocates for children. Larry has helped several children through the court process in Travis County and explained his experience at the news conference today.
“I wanted to give back in a more lasting and substantial way. As a CASA volunteer you can be there for a child at their time of greatest need. I’m in a position with my life experiences where I can meet with a young African-American man or woman and explain that being a minority and being poor does not mean you have to accept the at-risk label being put on your forehead,” said Comer.
“With the youth I just try to be there and to listen. I take everything seriously. I fight for their needs, make calls and hold people accountable. I believe you have to give it everything you’ve got for these kids. The CASA volunteer is often the one constant caring adult in a child’s life who advocates for the child’s best interests and helps the child find a safe and loving home,” said Comer.
Texas CASA is a statewide association of 69 local CASA programs that recruit, train and supervise community volunteers who are court appointed to represent the best interests of children in CPS custody due to evidence of abuse or neglect. Each CASA volunteer is appointed to advocate for one child or set of siblings so he or she can get to know the child or sibling group and what the children’s current and future needs are.
The CASA volunteer visits the child regularly, monitors the child’s progress and the progress of the CPS case in general. The CASA volunteer interviews everyone involved in the child’s life and reviews all relevant medical, educational and legal records, and reports his or her findings to the court and other parties. CASA volunteers make recommendations to judges about the children’s best interests now and in the future, and help guide children out of the foster care system as soon as possible.
When home is no longer safe for a child, and the child must enter the foster care system, a judge may appoint a committed volunteer called a CASA or Court Appointed Special Advocate®. The volunteer’s focus is on that child, giving hope and help in guiding the child to a safe, permanent home. Make a difference. Consider becoming a CASA volunteer. Visit www.BecomeACASA.org.