Gina Schroeder has volunteered as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Volunteer in Travis County since 1992, serving 15 children in that time. She has a special spot in her heart for children with challenges, whether they are physical, emotional or intellectual. The staff knows that she will leave no stone unturned in getting to the truth and understand how the courts and the community can best serve the child.
A CASA volunteer is a trained citizen, appointed by a judge to represent the best interest of a child. Kids helped by a CASA are those that have been removed from their homes because of sever abuse, neglect or abandonment.
A CASA provides a judge with a carefully researched background of the child to help the court make a sound decision about that child’s future. The CASA must determine if it is in a child’s best interest to stay with his/her parents, be placed in foster care or be freed for permanent out of home placement or adoption.
To prepare a recommendation, the CASA volunteer spends time with the child, talks to parents, family members, attorneys, social workers, school officials, therapists, teachers and others who know about the child’s history and progress.
Schroeder’s most recent case involved a family in which a child died under questionable circumstances. Two siblings of the deceased child were taken from the home while court-ordered services tried working with all of the family. Despite guarded expectations about these parents’ ability to be successful caretakers, Schroeder made every effort to see if this family could be salvaged.
Schroeder never wavered in her determination to advocate for these children and made sure all the facts came to court in a timely and accurate manner. She discovered grandparents with custody of half-siblings of the children involved in the court case. The grandparents, who were both mentally and physically challenged, came to every court hearing faithfully and showed appropriate concern for this group of grandchildren.
After these relatives asked to be considered as a placement when the parents’ rights were terminated, Schroeder made a home visit and discovered their dismal living conditions. She agonized over the circumstances but also recognized the children’s strong bond with their grandparents. Schroeder went to work and secured $20,000 in community donations to help find them affordable housing and ensured that Family Preservation Services (the agency that had originally placed these children in the home knowing what the conditions were) were engaged to help these grandparents in a positive manner. She also obtained follow-up evaluations for the caretakers to ensure their own emotional and financial support. More than six community organizations united to make donations of time, dollars and services. By orchestrating this effort, Schroeder was able to give these children the hope of staying in the home they have known for most of their young lives.
Working with children as an advocate is only one portion of Schroeder’s involvement with the CASA program. She has always been extremely involved in fundraising efforts as well. In addition, Schroeder has helped with community outreach efforts.
“It is on the shoulders of volunteers such as Gina Schroeder that the respect, appreciation, and reputation of CASA rests,” remarked Karen Cox, Executive Director, CASA of Travis County. “We are proud to have her in our community representing this organization. She is truly an inspiration to our staff, volunteers, and most importantly, to the precious children she has diligently and tirelessly served over the years.”