Becoming a CASA

A Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) is an advocate for a child who has been removed from the home by Child Protective Services (CPS). The court assigns a guardian to the child – the CASA is the “guardian ad litem” (which means guardian for this time) for the time that the child is away from his parent.

Judge Cynthia Wheless presided over my swearing-in ceremony as a CASA volunteer in July 2018.

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Judge Cynthia Wheless and Mark Johnson at the CASA swearing-in ceremony – July 2018.

When a child is removed from their home due to abuse or neglect, the court assigns the child a CASA/guardian ad litem. The CASA works with the child to understand his background, his story, and his needs. The CASA works with many parties (attorneys, the court, parents, family members, foster parents, CPS caseworkers, doctors, teachers, psychologists, counselors, and other professionals) to protect the best interests of the child. In the state of Texas, parents have rights to their children. When a child is removed from their home due to abuse or neglect, the state sues for temporary parental rights of the child. This is a civil law proceeding that can last anywhere from 6 months to years (depending on the circumstances). There may also be a related, but separate, criminal proceeding associated with the abuse or neglect.

The state always attempts to reunite a child who has been removed from his home with his family. To do this, the state works to ensure that the danger or neglect in the home is removed, addressed, and corrected – this may include activities such as drug/alcohol cessation activities for the parent(s), parenting classes, home improvements, and the like. But if the child cannot be reunited with his family in a reasonable time, the state will sue to permanently terminate parental rights. Then the child becomes available for adoption.

In Collin County, Texas, the CASA is the child’s guardian ad litem until one of three things happen…

  1. The child is reunited with his family.
  2. The child is adopted.
  3. The child ages out of the system (he becomes an adult).

There is a great need for CASA’s. I felt God leading me to become a CASA. So I applied to be a CASA in Collin County, Texas. I went through the vetting process (applications, background checks, driving records checks, criminal history checks, reference checks. and personal interviews). Once vetted by the CASA of Collin County organization, I attended a set of training sessions that covered many areas – signs of child abuse or neglect, types of abuse or neglect, intro to the Texas Family Code (law), the CPS process, the court process, the case working process, family dynamics, cultural competency, medical advocacy, educational advocacy, legal advocacy, and investigative techniques.

After vetting and training completion, I was sworn in by the judge.

I received my first case as a CASA in August 2018. Due to privacy issues, CASA’s may not share information regarding the specific child, the specifics of the case, or the specifics of family dynamics associated with the case.