By Judge Timothy. J. Schutz, El Paso County District Court
For many years while serving as a practicing attorney and District Court Judge in this community, I had a general sense of the good work done by CASA of the Pikes Peak Region. Since assuming a Dependency and Neglect Docket in January of 2015, I have gained an even deeper appreciation for the critical work CASA advocates provide to our community, the judiciary, families, and most importantly, children. I have seen the difference a CASA advocate can make in the lives of children and families in crisis. An independent voice, a challenge not to accept the status quo, a sensitive ear—these are all qualities demonstrated by the effective CASA advocate. And, I have witnessed the concrete and intangible benefits these qualities can provide to our vulnerable youth and their families.
Unfortunately, not all of our neglected children have the benefit of a CASA advocate. The demand simply exceeds the available resources. While additional CASA advocates are desired from all arenas, there is substantial need for more individuals of racially and ethnically diverse backgrounds. As co-chair of the Minority Overrepresentation Committee (“MOR”) of our Juvenile Courts, I am painfully aware of the disproportionate numbers of minority youth who appear in our Dependency and Neglect Dockets. A central purpose of the MOR Committee is to assess the existence, causes, and potential solutions for the disproportionate number of children of color who appear in our social welfare, school disciplinary and criminal justice systems. This mission touches upon a complex array of issues that challenge not only our MOR Committee, but our greater society and its institutions. It is one of the defining challenges of our time. Indeed, the measure of our generation’s metal will depend, in no small part, upon how we rise to meet this challenge.
I am painfully aware of the disproportionate numbers of minority youth who appear in our Dependency and Neglect Dockets. It is one of the defining challenges of our time. Indeed, the measure of our generation’s metal will depend, in no small part, upon how we rise to meet this challenge.
It is also the type of challenge that can feel so overwhelming it makes a meaningful first step seem impossible. But this is where the critical work of CASA provides an opportunity to overcome inertia and allow good intention to translate into meaningful action. How can you serve a minority child in crisis? How can you help her to break the negative cycle that too often plagues children in trauma? How can you contribute to our generation’s essential effort to address these issues? You can serve as a CASA volunteer, that’s how. While no particular ethnic or racial background is necessary to be of service to a child, nonetheless, there is added benefit for a minority child to see an advocate with shared attributes and experiences speaking on his behalf. And, we know from our personal life experience that our ability to understand, to relate, to hear, to appreciate and to advocate is sometimes made easier when we share a common background. This is why it is so important to have CASA advocates with diverse perspectives.
I see so many of our children reaching for an ally. Will you take their hand?