In 1976, David Soukup, a superior court judge in Seattle, became greatly concerned about making decisions that had significant impact on dependent children’s futures, so he created a plan to train and appoint community volunteers to research the best interests of children in cases of abuse and neglect. He needed to be sure he was getting all the facts and that the long-term welfare of children was represented, so he depended on these volunteers to make informed recommendations to the court about getting children in safe, permanent homes as soon as possible. Today, that judge’s idea has evolved into one of the largest volunteer organizations in the country.
The seeds for CASA of Southeast Texas were sown in 1991 when District Judge J.M. “Jim” Farris was approached by a group from Leadership Beaumont. Leadership Beaumont is a community awareness program that develops community knowledge and leadership skills of area leaders and is sponsored by the Beaumont Chamber of Commerce. The Leadership Beaumont group was in search of a viable project. Judge Farris suggested Court Appointed Special Advocates, CASA, as a research project. CASA of Southeast Texas was organized in 1992 with a substantial initial donation from the YMBL.
Many in the judicial system have assisted with public awareness of CASA including Judge Jim Farris, Judge Joe Fisher, Judge Jim Mehaffy, Joe Tonahill, Judge Tom Mulvaney, Judge Larry Thorne, and Judge Randy Shelton. The former Mitchell Clinic at 2449 Calder was purchased in 1998, which currently serves as the headquarters of CASA of Southeast Texas.
CASA has grown from a volunteer-staffed organization to an important part of the family court system staffed by ten dedicated employees along with a volunteer corps of more than one hundred and fifty.
CASA of Southeast Texas is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit agency governed by a volunteer board of directors. CASA of Southeast Texas receives funding from Texas CASA, county, state and federal entities, from local and state foundations, and from individuals, corporations and civic organizations. CASA of Southeast Texas is one of over 1,000 programs in 50 states affiliated with the National Court Appointed Special Advocate Association. The local names of these programs vary, to include: Court Appointed Special Advocates, Guardian Ad Litem, Voices for Children, and Child Advocates.
CASA of Southeast Texas is a member of Texas CASA, Inc. and the National CASA Association, which provides the policies and procedures for the organization and regulates the intensive training each volunteer undergoes. The training program, which requires thirty classroom hours and court observation, has been used across the country in over 900 CASA programs—including the 72 in Texas. This intensive training program has been refined by judges, the Department of Family and Protective Services, psychologists, and child abuse specialists in order to ensure the provision of the best possible training.