By Robbie Owens

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DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Whether it’s overwhelmed caseworkers, or understaffed offices, the crisis within Child Protective Services defies easy fixes.  And yet advocates say North Texans are taking note and taking action. Applications to become Dallas CASA volunteers are up 25% over a year ago.

“We are so grateful for the way individuals have stepped up,” says President and Executive Director Kathleen LaValle.  “We’ve had this increase in applications, and volunteers have actually completed the training.  But, it can’t be like a news cycle. It can’t be something that we’re focused on today and when we’re trying to fill our January class, the phones aren’t ringing, so it’s got to stay on people’s minds.”

CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates.  Judges appoint the volunteers to advocate for the best interests of children who have been removed from their homes because of abuse and or neglect.  According to LaValle, on average 5 children are removed from dangerous homes in Dallas county every day.  And in spite of the increase in volunteers, the good will can’t keep pace with the need.  “We still only have enough volunteers to serve 3 of 5 children,” says LaValle.

In spite of being a busy, working single Mom, Kristy Hoglund Robinson is now one of them.  Why? “I love kids.”

Hoglund Robinson, who was sworn in early last year, says the experience has made her a better Mom, and opened her eyes to a world that was right under her nose.

“It was 11 miles from my house,” says Hoglund Robinson.  “No food, no water, no electricity…the 12-year-old was doing K2 drugs with the Mom.”

While abuse does not respect neighborhood boundaries, Hoglund Robinson says the pathway to redemption for many of these children is paved with connections.  “One on one with these kids works, and when they get the feeling that somebody out there cares, they get a little bit of hope.  You see dramatic changes.”

Her commitment is mirrored in the many volunteers who have responded to the growing crisis within CPS with action—instead of simply frustration.

“For people to come in and wonder, `do I have this within myself?’ ‘Do I have the capability?’ And to see that they really do? And see that they can make a difference? It’s an extraordinary opportunity for our community,” says LaValle.

CASA volunteers undergo 30 hours of initial training and 12 hours of continuing education each year. Volunteers work with a staff supervisor who provides guidance throughout the court process.

“It’s a time in a child’s life that’s filled with uncertainty. It’s filled with change,” says LaValle.  “And if we can make them feel as if there is someone who is looking out for them, who thinks about they’re being cared for, whether they’re being fed, whether there’s sheets on the bed… I mean, the basics we would want for our own children, and certainly want for all children.”

As a CASA volunteer, Hoglund Robinson says she’s watched as an 11-year-old picked up a card for the first time and realized that there were words on the inside.  “He’d never given nor received a birthday card,” she says.  At other times, she’s made last minute runs for poster board for a school project.  And then recently she responded to a teenage foster child’s deep question—delivered, of course—via text: “does my life have purpose?”  Indeed it does.  And it’s Hoglund Robinson’s job, to help that child imagine a future that connects to it.

The next volunteer information session is planned for Thursday, October 20th at 6:00.  Click here for more information.

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