CASA volunteer Phillips provides calm in time of need

BEAUMONT — Teena Phillips has a way to describe what it’s like to be a part of Court Appointed Special Advocates of Southeast Texas Inc.

“It can be emotionally tough, but that’s not what I’m there for. I’m there to be a constant in their lives, peace in the storm they live in,” Phillips said.

CASA is a nonprofit service organization that recruits, trains and supervises a diverse group of community volunteers, appointed by the courts for abused and neglected children in the pursuit of safe, permanent homes, Christy Heisner, resource development coordinator for CASA of Southeast Texas Inc., said.

CASA volunteers are advocates for abused and neglected children and have four main responsibilities; to be a friend and constant in their appointed child’s life, to serve as a fact-finder for the judge by thoroughly researching the background of each assigned case, to speak for the child’s best interest in the courtroom, and to advocate for the child during the life of the case to ensure that it is brought to a swift and appropriate conclusion.

Seated in a conference room at the Beaumont CASA office, Phillips talked about the program, what it means to the children and to her.

A Nederland resident, Phillips got involved with CASA nine years ago and has worked with 17 families and 22 children.

When she began, she already had a daughter, Shelby, and wanted another child but was dealing with fertility problems. She became a foster parent and ended up adopting her second daughter, Lindsey.

As a CASA volunteer, Phillips visits children in their home or at their day care or when the children visit with their parents. Volunteers watch how the child interacts with the parents and the parents with the child, then reports back to the court.

“It is so worth it, whether they go back to their home or are fostered or adopted,” she said “It’s one of the most rewarding experiences.”

 

Lisa Briggs, court program director for CASA of Southeast Texas, said Phillips is very devoted to her CASA kids,” Briggs said. “Teena is an outstanding advocate and we are so grateful for her. She has a passion for advocating for children who have been abused or neglected.”

Briggs called Phillips a powerful advocate and a strong voice in court for her children.

“Teens gives her time, energy and heart to each of her CASA children,” she said. “She truly makes a difference I the lives of children.”

 

 

Judge Larry Thorne of the 317th civil district court described what happens in court. There is a child who for whatever reason was taken away from his or her parents. In addition there are all these people; it could be police, people from the district attorney’s office, people from Child Protective Services.

“I tell the CASA volunteers their one concern is the best interest of the child,” Thorne said. “They are in a unique situation. They are not the police, not with the DA’s office, not with CPS. Therefore parents, other people and relatives with information will open up to them.”

So far all but one of her cases have had a safe, happy conclusion with the exception of one infant, who died.

“You are only there for the child, and they are in the system for a year. Sometimes a six-month extension is given and sometimes they are adopted,” she said. “You really have to focus on helping the kid and reporting to the judge.”

When Child Protective Services steps in, workers on the case may be moved around, but CASA volunteers are a constant, she said.

“The CASA volunteer is the only constant, the only person who sees that child from the beginning. You are there for them,” she said. “A lot of people say they couldn’t do it. I say why wouldn’t you?”

As a child advocate, Phillips meets with children, asks how they’re doing in school, foster care, at home or day care if applicable. She checks to see if they are adjusting or not.

As a CASA volunteer she is able to speak with anyone necessary to help the child. She also speaks with the child’s teachers if there is a problem at school and asks how she can help.

“I go to their school programs,” she said with a smile.

Through the years she has kept in contact with the families of some of the children she’s worked with, with the families permission.

“I get to watch them grow up,” she said.

Thorne agrees.

“CASA volunteers establish a remarkable relationship with the child, and in many cases I’ve seen over the years, those relationships have lasted for a long time,” Thorne said.

Phillips is grounded in her faith and has worked at her church, Church on the Rock-Golden Triangle, for 22 years. She said her husband, Jeff Phillips, has always been very supportive of her CASA work. Their older daughter, Shelby, 22, is working on a master’s degree in business administration at East Texas Baptist University; daughter Lindsey is 13.

“On the anniversary day of her adoption, Nov. 18, we go out and eat. It’s always Roadhouse,” she said. “When she was little, she called it the ‘peanut place.’ We don’t do gifts on that day. It’s our special adoption day.”

Phillips says she feels she was called to do this — to be an advocate for children.

“I feel I can make a difference,” she said.

Thorne agrees with Phillips’ statement about being peace in the storm a child lives in.

“I couldn’t put it a better way, and that’s why this relationship can last long after the child is out of CPS custody. They (children) are in the middle of turmoil. Some of the children are abused or neglected and still want their parents, then all of a sudden here comes this peace and calm, and somebody who cares talks to them, listens to them, and it’s different,” he said. “It may be the first experience of a caring adult.”

CASA volunteers are remarkable people, he said, adding they make a huge difference in the life of the child.

Phillips said she will continue to be part of CASA and doesn’t see herself quitting.

She also wants people to know it only takes a few hours a month to be a CASA volunteer but the rewards are multi-fold.

“I love it and do not ever see myself not doing it,” she said.

Email: mary.meaux@panews.com

Twitter: MaryMeauxPANews

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