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Politics: Abbott, Texas CASA launch campaign to recruit more volunteers to help Texas foster children

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April 14, 2011 - Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and Texas CASA, Inc. representatives today observed Child Abuse Prevention Month and commended the thousands of volunteers who serve as Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) for Texas foster children.

Attorney General Abbott and Texas CASA volunteer Carol Cates stressed the vital role that CASAs provide to abused and neglected children. Texas CASA, Inc. trains volunteers across the state to objectively advocate for a foster child's best interests in state courts. These dedicated volunteers are also taught to help children through the foster care system and help these young victims rebuild their lives.

Former First Lady Laura Bush recently recorded a public service announcement in an effort to help raise awareness about the CASA program and the important role its volunteers play in the larger effort to protect Texas foster children. Citing Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) research on the CASA program's effectiveness, Attorney General Abbott joined the former first lady's campaign and urged more Texans to help abused foster children by serving as CASA volunteers.

"Every day, CASA volunteers, government leaders and members of the judiciary work together to protect abused and neglected children," Attorney General Abbott said. "The state's foster care system - and the children it serves - relies on trained CASA volunteers to help protect child abuse victims. We encourage more Texans to step forward, become a CASA volunteer and join the dedicated network of selfless advocates who provide a safety net for Texas foster children."

Attorney General Abbott added: "Serving as a CASA volunteer provides advocates a unique opportunity to make a tremendous difference in a child's life - and in the State's future. Encouraged and supported by CASA volunteers, our State's youngest victims are able to gather the courage to rebuild their lives, restore their trust, and start down the path to a bright and promising future."

According to DFPS, 8,300 additional children will enter the Texas child welfare system by 2014. In 2010, DFPS reported that 42,890 children were in foster care. The agency's projections indicate that more than 51,000 children will be under its care by 2014. In light of the nearly 20 percent increase expected over the next three years, far more Texas foster children will need CASA volunteers to be their voice in court.

CASA volunteers do more for young victims than offer much-needed comfort and support. They attend all legal proceedings that affect each child victim and work alongside TDFPS, judges, attorneys, foster families, and mental health professionals who are working to improve fragile young lives.

Texas judges who have CASA programs in their courts recognize the value of well-trained CASA volunteers' observations and recommendations. According to a 2008 judicial study by the Office of Survey Research at the University of Texas at Austin, 97 percent of Texas judges reported that case related information from CASA advocates is beneficial to their decision making. In the same survey, 94 percent of Texas judges said CASA volunteers positively impacted the lives of young victims.

A 2006 study conducted by National CASA Association and U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Programs found that children who are paired with a CASA volunteer are less likely to re-enter the child welfare system after their case is closed.

Attorney General Abbott and Texas CASA, Inc. have partnered several times to raise awareness about child abuse prevention. In 2007, Texas CASA recognized Attorney General Abbott's commitment to protecting Texas children with its Lone Star Champions for Kids Award.

Throughout the Abbott administration, the Texas Attorney General's Office has focused on protecting children by working proactively to reduce child victims' physical and emotional trauma. In 2010, Texas CASA, Inc. was awarded a grant from the Compensation to Victims of Crime Fund that provided financial support for 69 local CASA programs.

In addition to awarding crime victim assistance grants to Texas CASA and other organizations that serve victims, the Attorney General's Crime Victim Services Division awarded more than $75 million directly to crime victims and their families last year. Under Texas law, victims of crime are eligible for assistance from the Fund as a payer of last resort, so that they do not have to pay out of pocket for expenses that stemmed from the crime committed against them. For more information about the Crime Victim Services Division, contact the Attorney General's Office at (800) 252-8011 or visit online at www.texasattorneygeneral.gov.

Texans who are interested in becoming a CASA volunteer or want to learn more about local CASA programs in their community should contact Texas CASA, Inc. at (877) TX4-CASA or online at www.texascasa.org.

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