Tue Nov 6, 2012
2:00 pm - 3:00pm
CJ Center (A209)
The Court Appointed Special Advocate program provides a voice in court for abused and neglected children.
Amanda Cervantez (’11) is a voice for children in foster care in Walker, San Jacinto and Trinity counties.
As a case supervisor at CASA of Walker and San Jacinto Counties, Cervantez helps oversee 130 to 140 abused, neglected and abandoned children annually under the supervision of Child Protective Services. CASA is assigned as guardian ad litem for children from birth to 18 years old, watching over their medical and dental care, education and therapy. If parental reunification is planned, CASA also monitors parent participation in mandatory programs and reports their finding back to the judge in the case.
Amanda Cervantez, case supervisor, CASA of Walker and Trinity Counties.“We are the voice for the children,” said Cervantez. “We speak for the children. We are essentially the investigators, and we are another set of eyes.”
The work can’t be done without a cadre of 50 volunteers, who make the calls and visit the children at least once a month. Cervantez began at CASA in that capacity in July 2011 and by March, she was on the staff of three that oversees children under CPS supervision in three counties.
“I saw a great need for intervention,” said Cervantez. “If you can get help for these kids when they are young, they can succeed. So I volunteered at SAAFE House and Winner’s Circle Juvenile Mentoring Program and worked at the Gulf Coast Trade Center. I think all the kids need is good guidance and a positive role model. If I could reach out to help those in need and guide them the right way, maybe it can help with juvenile delinquency.”
CASA, a national volunteer movement, stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates.
The advocates provide a voice in court for abused and neglected children to safeguard the child’s best interests and ensure they are placed in safe, permanent homes as quickly as possible. In Texas, there are 69 local CASA programs with more than 5,000 volunteers serving more than 20,500 children in foster care.
Volunteers are trained and appointed by the courts and are the eyes and ears for the children during their time under CPS supervision, which generally lasts a year. Advocates get to know the child and speak to everyone involved in the child’s life, including their family members, teachers, doctors, lawyers, social workers and others, to better understand their needs. These volunteers make recommendations to the court so they can make informed decisions on each case.
“It’s a really neat experience,” said Cervantez. “You get to stand before the judge and he looks directly at you and asks, “What says CASA?’ You speak for the child.”
CASA volunteers are the eyes and ears for the courts for abused and neglected children. Volunteers must be at least 21 years old, undergo a criminal background check and be willing to commit at least one year to the programs. Volunteers undergo 30 hours of training, which includes 15 hours of self-study and 15 hours of lecture and classroom work. CASA of Walker and San Jacinto Counties is always recruiting for volunteers, especially after adding Trinity County cases to their office about a year ago.
Cervantez wishes she would have become a volunteer earlier so she could better understand what she was learning in classes at Sam Houston State University.
“Experience does facilitate learning,” said Cervantez. “Everything I learn at CASA, I wish I took better notes in class because it all makes sense now.”
Cervantez urges other students to get involved during college.
“Get working and get going out there meeting people and getting involved,” said Cervantez. “Get involved in a child’s life and pay it forward. Get involved in whatever you can.”