December 05, 2023

CASA Pilot Transforms Lives and Keeps Families Together

In Austin, Texas, children who have been in foster care and go home to live with family typically go back into care about 10% of the time within one year. Within five years, that number goes up to 40%.

In 2019, inspired by her own work as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer, Nancy Pollard, the Executive Director of the Friends of the Children - Austin chapter, worked with the local CASA program to launch a pilot project focused on giving a Friend to children in the area who had been in foster care and were returning home to their families. The goal of the pilot was to keep youth safely at home and avoid returning to foster care.

Friends - Austin met Daniella in 2019. Daniella loves her family and is very artistic. Although shy and reserved at first, Daniella can be witty and funny once she feels at ease. She also loves animals and having somebody to play with. At her first visit with Friends - Austin, Daniella’s mom shared her commitment to her children coming home to live with her. Daniella joined the program and things were on track for that to happen when the pandemic hit. Courts closed, services were unavailable, and supervision of the case became an issue. Daniella had to move from Austin to Houston with another family member. Due to the distance, Daniella couldn’t remain enrolled in the program, but her Friend visited, stayed in touch by phone, and wrote letters to make sure Daniella felt supported and connected.

Two years later as the world reopened, Daniella returned to Austin, the court case closed, and her mom’s dream of having her family back together came true. It didn’t take long for mom to reach out to Friends - Austin to make sure Daniella still had a Friend — which of course, she did!

Daniella is now an upcoming 6th grader and she and her Friend Andrea have been working together to find positive ways to process all that she has gone through. Daniella has slowly come back to feeling at home at the Friends - Austin clubhouse, reconnecting with old friends, building new relationships, and easing into herwitty, funny self. And of course, continues growing up and working towards her goals. Andrea has worked to build a strong working relationship with Daniella’s mom and continues to support her to keep her family together.

Now, more than three years into the CASA Pilot project, not a single child with a Friend in Austin has gone back into foster care — not one!

The Texas legislature was so inspired by these results that in 2023, they invested $4.5M to grow the Friends of the Children CASA Pilot in Austin, expand it to Friends of the Children - Houston, and scale the pilot to a third Texas location in 2024!

We commit to all youth in our program for 12+ years, no matter what. Because of that, Daniella — and her entire family — will have a Friend walking alongside them until she graduates from high school. Along the way, we’ll be celebrating every milestone both she and her mom accomplish!