SOCIAL IMPACTS: Representation Matters for Kids and CASA of Travis County
In celebration of our 20th anniversary year, Impact Austin is highlighting Community Partnerships. From 112 grants totaling $8.26 million to 91 local nonprofits, this is one of our stories
Impact Austin has partnered three times with CASA of Travis County whose mission is to "promote and protect the best interest of children who have experienced abuse or neglect, by training volunteers to advocate for them in courts, in schools, and in our community to help them find safe, permanent, and loving homes." CASA of Travis County is one of 939 CASA organizations within 49 states. CASA Travis was established in 1985 and in 2021 had 806 active volunteers. See their impact here and how we've partnered together below:
Our 2010 Family Grant expanded the Transitioning Youth Program to ensure that vulnerable kids 14-18 would be better equipped to transition to successful and independent adult living via education, preparation for adulthood, and healthy connections. Today CASA Travis continues serving youth who are at risk of becoming adults without a family or other long-term supports.
The 2014 Family Grant invested in a new program, “Trauma-Informed Care in the Foster Care System," to help foster youth heal more quickly from the trauma of abuse and neglect by surrounding them with volunteers and child care professionals trained in the principles of Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI). This program continues today.
Our 2018 Catalyst Grant took a very different approach, not funding a program, rather supporting CASA's capacity to recruit diverse volunteers that would more fully represent the children they serve.
Along with courtroom advocacy, a CASA volunteer supports the child to whom they are appointed through the emotional and physical trauma they may have experienced. Building trust is critical to gather a clear understanding of what a child needs and what outcome to the case will be in the child’s best interest. In 2019, 49% of children CASA of Travis County served were Hispanic/Latino and 28% were African-American/Black. “I want our volunteer pool to be representative of the population of Travis County.” said Alejandro Victoria, then Director of Volunteer Admissions and now Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). “We had a little boy tell us, I don’t want another white lady to come and visit me at school every week because then my friends know something is wrong at home. I want someone who looks like me.”
In 2018, CASA’s traditional method of volunteer recruitment wasn’t bringing in as many diverse volunteers as they hoped. With our Catalyst Grant of $111,500, CASA Travis hired a Diversity Recruitment Specialist to build deeper relationships. CASA's team also deployed a new website and online marketing strategy to complement grassroots (word of mouth) recruitment. The work paid off.
In 2019, the overall number of assigned volunteers grew by 5% to a total of 772.
In 2019, assigned African-American/Black volunteers grew from 4% to 5%
In 2019, assigned Hispanic/Latino volunteers grew from 11% to 17%
Reflecting ongoing success, in 2020 37% of volunteer applicants were people of color
Our case study of the 2018 grant is here.
But pandemic and recession challenged volunteer levels within many nonprofits, CASA included.
We recently circled back to CASA Travis to ask about the status of volunteer recruitment, especially for CASAs of color. They had great news to share.
The Impact Austin grant helped set the course for CASA Travis's diversity work. Among other benefits, a new position was created within CASA Travis: Director of D.E.I. This position helps the organization focus even more on diversity - both in their volunteer pool and also on their staff.
CASA Travis can see where their advertising has an effect. Whereas many white volunteers have long come to CASA by word of mouth (from other white volunteers), more volunteers of color were coming from online appeals. But, as more volunteers of color serve as CASAs, they generate more word of mouth recruitment, which complements online efforts
A return to in-person recruitment and trainings is paying off, too. CASA Travis can reach out to organizations referred by existing volunteers of color to motivate others to join the work.
CASA Travis's Ambassador Program includes volunteers of color to be "the face of CASA" at information sessions and to give testimony about their work as CASAs.
Since the Impact Austin grant, from 2019-2022 CASA Travis cleared 1,040 volunteers. While not all remained as active volunteers, that number indicates the amount of screening and recruiting that was conducted.
In 2021, the percentage of active volunteers of color was 31%. By the end of 2022, the percentage of active volunteers of color had increased to 33%
Director of D.E.I. Alejandro Victoria summed up the ongoing work at CASA of Travis County this way: "Since 2018, we have revamped how we recruit volunteers in our community thanks to the data we now have access to from our website. Each passing year we reevaluate our strategies and are thoughtful in our future efforts. We will continue to pursue the goal of having volunteers representative of the community we are serving going into 2023 and beyond."
(photo from CASA of Travis County website)