By Philip Jankowski
Killeen Daily Herald
Bette Robinson sometimes wakes up at 2 a.m. agonizing over the fate of a child.
The Harker Heights resident volunteers in one of the most intensive, demanding and downright frustrating ways.
But it is also one of the most important.
Court Appointed Special Advocates are volunteers who serve as the voice of children who have been removed from their parents because Child Protective Services has determined their living environment is not healthy.
Robinson is one of those advocates.
In an environment where cases can get shuffled between several CPS workers, Robinson aims to be the one consistent contact for a child whose life has suddenly been placed in flux.
"I tell my children 'I will always find you,'" Robinson said.
CASA volunteers are assigned one child at a time for a period that can sometimes last two years. During that time, they are continually in contact with the child, parents, relatives and teachers.
The goal is to make an assessment on behalf of the child when it comes to deciding if the child should be returned to their parents, turned over to a relative or family friend or placed in a foster home.
Most children removed from a home are never returned to their parents' homes.
"We try to do everything we can, but most aren't," Robinson said.
A judge ultimately decides where a child is placed. During that process, judges and other officials use a CASA's recommendations as part of the basis for that decision.
Robinson said CPS provides very specific criteria for parents to regain guardianship of their children.
But when faced with parents who may be mentally ill or addicted to drugs, Robinson sometimes has to tell parents that, in the interest of the child, she cannot recommend the child be returned home.
"It's frustrating with the adults, and sometimes with the system," she said. "But you can't get taken down by that."
Robinson started volunteering at CASA after she retired from the Killeen Independent School District as the principal of East Ward Elementary School.
Her career prepared her for the unpaid position. East Ward was, for a time, the district's center for at-risk elementary students.
"My focus has always been kids," she said. "It doesn't mean you're always successful, but you try."
Contact Philip Jankowski at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7553.
How to help
Court Appointed Special Advocates is run by the Children's Advocacy Center of Central Texas. Volunteers become the voice of a child that Child Protective Services has removed from their parents.
To learn about becoming a CASA volunteer, call (254) 939-2946.
Being accepted as a volunteer requires several criteria, including more than 30 hours of in-service training, making an 18-month commitment and submitting to background checks. Requirements include the following:
Individuals must be at least 21 years old and successfully pass screening and training requirements.
Must have access to transportation.
Must visit each individual child a minimum of once each month until the case closes.
Must keep in contact with the CASA office on a frequent basis.
Must make efforts to attend all court hearings and must submit a report to the CASA office prior to all hearings.
Donations can be made to the Children's Advocacy Center of Central Texas at www.cacct.com.