Casework Supervisor, Chuck Gilliatt wrote: “I come back from vacation and my Team Lead, who was covering for me, tells me about something that happened in court. My advocate was waiting for her case to be called and her attention was drawn to another hearing on the docket. The child was present in court. The judge had heard from the parties about the ordeal this teenage girl was going through, then spoke to her in the judge’s chambers. The two emerged with tears in their eyes. This advocate was so moved by what she had seen and heard that she immediately asked to be assigned as the CASA for that child. She already had two cases.
That advocate is Sheila Austin.
Sheila completed pre-service training on September 30, 2011. Since then she has had six cases, all teenage girls. As a former foster child herself she wants to be the advocate for these girls that she did not have during those difficult times. Her personal experiences have helped her empathize with foster children, to listen and clearly communicate their needs to the court, caseworkers and attorneys. Sheila’s dedication and persistence has made a big difference in the lives of these girls. She has an unwavering focus on the needs of the child and does whatever is required to serve the child’s best-interests. In court, she has a depth of knowledge and compassion that is respected by the Judge and all parties to the case.
Thank you Sheila for your passion, perseverance and long-term commitment to foster children in need. I am blessed to be able to work with you, but more so are the children whose lives you touch.”
1. What made you decide to become a CASA?
When I was a child I was in the foster care system in another state. My experiences with the various foster families that I lived with ranged from very negative to very positive. As a result of these experiences, it is my passion to be the advocate for foster children that I did not have available to me.
2. What is your professional/volunteer background?
Before joining CASA I was a Realtor with RE/MAX. Prior to being a Realtor I worked in accounts payable for a local company in Arlington, TX. While raising our children I was an active parent with all of my children's activities like PTA and sports/booster clubs. After our children graduated I began working in the Women's Ministry as a Secretary at our church and I lead a women's bible study.
3. What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about becoming a CASA?
Being a CASA is a rewarding yet challenging opportunity to serve those that need a voice in our community. To do this effectively, you need to be able to put yourself in these children's shoes and to be able to listen and clearly communicate their needs to the court, caseworkers and Ad Litems. It is also important for the advocate to have their own support system such as other advocates that can be leaned on for guidance and emotional support.
4. What has been the most challenging part of being a CASA?
With the overwhelming needs in our community, there are times when the resources and systems are also overwhelmed. Being an advocate sometimes requires persistence in making sure your foster child's needs are met with the right resources.
5. What has been the most rewarding part of being a CASA?
Knowing that I have been a small part in helping a child either find a forever home or return to a more healthy home that will provide the protection and love that every child deserves.
6. Is there anything else you would like to add about yourself or your CASA experience?
Besides the joy of being able to help children through a very difficult time in their life, I'm very blessed to have met and worked with some incredible people that have a true heart for children.