The Voices of Child Advocates of Fort Bend

Volume 1
JANUARY 2022

 

CEO Ruthanne Mefford, October News, from our CEO

Happy New Year!

We are so excited to kick off 2022 and introduce you to a full calendar of happenings at Child Advocates of Fort Bend for the upcoming year. You may have noticed that our monthly newsletter has a new name, The Voices of CAFB, a new look and a new format. We have convened an editorial staff with representatives from each department who have come together to reimagine our newsletter. Each month, we will focus on a theme and bring you, our readers, inspiring stories of the children we serve, spotlights on our dedicated CASA Volunteers who advocate fiercely for our children and CAC Volunteers whose warm, caring greetings welcome hundreds of children every month to our Center, impact stories of what has been made possible because of the generosity of our donors, and stories of the many collaborations with our partners who we work alongside to ensure that our children find the help, healing and hope that they deserve.

This issue focuses on the year in review and our featured theme is Human Trafficking Awareness Month.

Please let us know what you think. We would love to hear from you!

Ruthanne Mefford, CEO

 

 

AGENCY HIGHLIGHTS

Keeping you informed on our mission:

Strengthen the child’s voice, Heal the hurt, and Break the cycle of abuse and neglect for children in Fort Bend and surrounding counties.

 

 As we begin a new year
and look forward
to all that awaits us,
let’s look back
at the events of 2021
within each program
in the agency

CASA

2021 brought on a lot of brainstorming, planning and looking forward to growth in the coming year. Our CASA team has been working to develop a CASA Program restructure to further develop more focused advocacy in three critical areas: Trauma-informed care, Youth Programming, and Court Advocacy. Ensuring that we are implementing trauma-informed care, making resources and programming accessible to youth and fostering a thorough understanding of what court advocacy looks like while nurturing partner relationships are all important pieces of the work that we do.

With this exciting step comes more volunteer opportunities! We have developed specialized volunteer tracks that provide opportunities to serve as mentors for trauma informed care, education, human trafficking, and collaborative family engagement. We look forward to sharing more about these opportunities with you soon!

In 2021, our TBRI Practitioners at CAFB partnered with other local TBRI Practitioners from Parks Youth Ranch, LCISD, Behavioral Health Services, and Fort Bend County Juvenile Probation to establish the Fort Bend County TBRI Collaborative. What’s really exciting about this partnership is that it consists of organizations from both private and public sectors. This approach will help us to develop a more trauma-informed community across multiple systems and impact the way support is provided to children who have experienced trauma. The Fort Bend County TBRI Collaborative facilitates training, support and resources to equip child welfare professionals, volunteers, teachers, juvenile justice professionals, and others who interact with vulnerable youth in our community. To learn more about what we have to offer, check out our website at: Fort Bend TBRI Collaborative (squarespace.com)

Every year, we provide opportunities for our NEST and WINGS youth to participate in local community projects that help youth understand the importance of giving back to the community and helping others. This year, youth participated in a “pack-a-thon” to pack food and important nutrients for those in need around the world. In a short two hours of volunteering, participating youth prepared a total of 2,160 meals! It’s so important for our youth to learn that despite what they have personally gone through, they can have empathy and make a big difference in the lives of others.

In the afternoon, we visited Reining Strength Therapeutic Horsemanship where youth learned about therapeutic services offered to those with physical, cognitive, social and emotional needs. Participating youth got to interact with the horses by brushing them, helping feed them and even finger painting their coats, which they loved!

Graduating high school is always a huge and wonderful accomplishment, but especially for youth in foster care. In 2021, we were thrilled to have 14 CASA youth graduate from high school! Each of their paths to get to graduation looked very different, but each of them worked so hard to get there and it really showed! One youth, in particular, wanted to graduate high school early and chose to work toward his GED. He was able to achieve that goal and graduated at the age of 17 years old and went on to apply to various diesel mechanic programs. Because of a need for on-campus housing and barriers due to his age, it took his strong support network consisting of his caseworker, CASA Volunteer, PAL Specialist, and even the judge to come up with a plan to ensure that this youth was able start school in fall. In December, this young man finished his first semester of his college career and is now transferring to his first-choice diesel mechanic program where he will continue to pursue his dream to become a diesel mechanic!

 –Aly Ferrante, Advocacy Specialist Team Leader

 

CASA Advocacy Specialists and Advocates found creative and endearing ways to engage with children and families in 2021.  CFE Teams continued to collaborate with partners, cultivate using the sidewalk and driveways to complete CFE Tools, convene virtually, and maintain lasting connections with youth without placements. Utilizing software called “Lifetime Networks” connected youth in the most difficult situations with supportive adults. Youth were able to hear, see and experience the positive impact of relationships formed prior to the pandemic, and continuing throughout this past year and beyond.  CFE 2021 Impact tells a story of engagement with 117 children and youth, and 91 virtual meetings where 72 families engaged in a continuous healing and recovery process.

Visiting youth in hospital settings helps maintain engagement during the most difficult times.  One volunteer chose to drive to Dallas on several occasions to visit with the child she has served as the one and only CASA for 10 years.  This volunteer chose to pack her visit bag with a new deck of cards so the two of them could return to their usual visit pattern of playing a of game of War!  This is serious “stuff” for them, even when wearing face masks throughout their games.  The in-person joyous engagements ended with planning for the next visits and a COVID acceptable hug.

  –Jackie Townsend, CFE Coach

 

Our 2021 was an exciting and productive year for the Courtesy CASA program. A second Courtesy CASA, Stevie Irby, joined Lolita Robles, our first Courtesy CASA, in March 2021. Together they visited 74 children at their placements in 2021. The vast majority of these children were visited on a monthly basis. Courtesy CASAs visit children who are placed outside of their jurisdiction. Their local programs are unable to visit regularly, usually due to distance. An in-person visit by a trained CASA ensures the child’s needs are being met by visiting their placements and gathering vital case related updates. Findings and concerns are brought back to the local program so informed decisions can be made in the child’s best interest.

In one of the out-of-service-area visits, a Courtesy CASA discovered a child with a homemade enclosure around his bed. It was staffed with the local program and determined that this active toddler was not appropriately placed in his medically fragile foster home with elderly foster parents. Due to the Courtesy CASA visit, the concerns were reported, and this child was moved to a more developmentally appropriate environment.

To request a Courtesy CASA visit or learn more please contact Krystal Vann at khughes@cafb.org.

   –Krystal Vann, Program Innovation Manager

 

THE CHILDREN’S ADVOCACY CENTER

The Children’s Advocacy Center has faced many challenges throughout the year of 2021. With these challenges brought perseverance and resiliency within a team that strives to break the cycle of child abuse. This year we have seen an increase in cases that involve children being witnesses to family violence, as well as an increase in crimes involving the use of technology. The COVID-19 pandemic emphasized the importance of working together as a team and has brought with it new cases, experiences, and successes from each member of the CAC staff.

“My daughter being able to have the chance to come in and share her story without judgement has given her freedom and that’s all we could ask for.”

CAC client’s parent

The forensic interviewing department is averaging 37 interviews a week, while also organizing and conducting a bi-weekly case review team meeting. This team brings together CPS, law enforcement and the CAC involved with each case in an open discussion forum and joint investigation. Our interviewers are a critical part of the work we do at the CAC as they provide a safe and neutral space that allows a child to share their experiences. Caregivers that come to the CAC are typically nervous regarding the process and the unknowns, but one caregiver shared his gratitude by saying, “My daughter being able to have the chance to come in and share her story without any judgement has given her freedom and that’s all we could ask for”. The interviewers did a phenomenal job in 2021.

Our Clinical Family Advocacy department served 1329 families by providing support, navigation of resources, and crisis intervention to caregivers and children. Their role is instrumental in the healing process for each family that enters the doors at the CAC.

We recently sent a survey to our Therapy clients to get feedback from those that we have been working with throughout the year. 100% of those who responded said they would recommend our services to others in their situation.  One client added “The center is good at making victims feels that we are not alone, Victims are not treated as a statistic, We are important and feel like we have a voice”. Another stated “The CAC therapy program is a great support system”. We are proud of our Therapy team and look forward to serving more children and families in 2022.

Our Criminal Court Advocates spent most of the year working with families who were affected by the postponing of trials due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Thankfully, in October trials in Fort Bend County resumed in person. Due to the hard work of the Criminal Court Advocacy and FBCDA legal teams, we saw prison sentences in the amounts of 25, 35 and 40 years being imposed.

  –Courtney James, Clinical Family Advocate

COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT + DEVELOPMENT 

2021 was quite the year for our community in Fort Bend and surrounding areas! As Community Outreach Coordinator, my focus is always on how to reach a family before they need our agency. Child abuse prevention seems like a lofty goal, but with the support of our community we are making an impact. Our ‘Connection is Prevention’ series on Facebook was aimed at parents and caregivers to encourage them to connect with their children. Did you know one of the greatest prevention strategies is to have children in close relationship with just ONE safe adult? It makes a HUGE difference. So, we are here for parents and those working with children in any capacity. With that in mind, we launched Darkness to Light’s Stewards of Children training. We believe in their mission to “empower adults to prevent child sexual abuse.”

“I heard your presentation and then I called my child’s gymnastics school and asked about their child abuse policy. They sent it right over to me and answered all my questions. I didn’t even know to ask about that until this presentation.”

Parent at Steward’s of Children training

We also rolled out Monique Burr Foundation’s ‘Child Safety Matters’ curriculum to our area schools. Their 5 steps of safety help children recognize unsafe situations and respond to them appropriately. Identifying safe adults in their lives and learning that abuse is NEVER their fault are key steps to children staying safer. We reached over 5,000 community members through prevention packs, awareness events, presentations, and community partnerships. We are looking forward to 2022 and continuing to “Break the Cycle of Child Abuse and Neglect” for all children in our community.

  –Lindsey Castellanos, Community Outreach Coordinator

A few stats for those who like to see the numbers….

  • We held 70 outreach presentations virtually and online and reached over 4,000 community members/participants.
  • 11 Trainings were held/hosted by CAFB: The topics included Trauma Informed Care, Attachment and Bonding, Human Trafficking, Nurturing Racial Identity in Children, Advocating for children in the schools and Foster Care support and Resources. Over 500 people attended these trainings.
  • We attended 15 outreach/community booths in the community and reached 5,050 people.
  • We added 2 new Prevention Training Curriculum programs added for schools, churches, and youth-serving organizations. These programs are being used to train our Speaking Team to provide a consistent message in the community.
  • We ended the year with “Elf Holiday Parties” for CASA Volunteers and CAC Families to distribute over 500 toys and bicycles to the children that we serve. It was a giant success making sure these children and families had a wonderful Christmas!

During 2021, we opened our building and hosted two classroom trainings added 30 new volunteers to our amazing group of volunteers. Many have already jumped in with CASA cases, working shifts at the CAC, participating in our Prevention Speaking team and assisting us at the front desk.  One of those trainings was a specialized “Men of CASA” all-male training to meet the need of recruiting male volunteers for CASA cases. It was a wonderful success, as we had 6 men attend and plan to continue this recruitment effort on an annual basis.

Our retention numbers for Volunteers last year ended at over 90%. I think that means they enjoy the work they do and working with the CAFB staff. 😉 Perhaps it’s the Socials, Case Closing celebrations, “Volunteer of the Month” recognitions and many other things we do to show our volunteers how much we appreciate them and how inspiring their work is! Getting to support people who have a servant’s heart is a true pleasure and I’m grateful to be able to do it.

As I read back through the work, advocacy, dedication and love poured into the past year, I’m inspired all over again. It’s a gift to be able to show up and make a difference every day. It’s a gift to have people that support the mission of CAFB, and it’s a gift to have such a giving community. Thank you for everything you have done so far, and continue to do, for Child Advocates. We appreciate you.

   –Jen Brown, Volunteer Coordinator

 

30th Anniversary Gala

Our 30th Anniversary was celebrated in a BIG WAY with our May 8th Birthday Gala held at the Sugar Land Marriott Town Square. We had over 520 attendees with great support and enjoyed a wonderful evening of entertainment, auctions, raffle and friends. The energy in the room was amazing as this was one of Fort Bend County’s first in-person events of the year raising over $390,000. Save the date for May 7, 2022 for our “Through the Looking Glass” Gala.

Voices for Children Breakfast

On September 23, we hosted our 11th annual Voices for Children Transforming Lives Breakfast to a ballroom of 225 guests who were moved by the emotional story of a little boy who came into care due to severe physical abuse.  He was developmentally delayed and barely able to read at age 10.  His challenging journey of starvation and abuse culminated in a very happy ending when he was adopted by a loving family in Michigan, and he is now an Honor Roll student and thriving. The morning closed with a beautiful story of the adoption of a little girl named Everly who has found her forever family and is now living Happily Everly After.

Christmas Home Tour

December 10th and 11th showcased four gorgeous homes decorated for Christmas for the 30th annual Christmas Home Tour. With the help of a wonderful volunteer committee, local entertainers and excited guests the event was successful and kicked off the holiday season for both young and old in Fort Bend County. Thanks to all who participated in making this fundraiser so special.

Sip n’ Stroll Tours

We introduced Sip n’ Stroll Tours as a unique and intimate experience for guests to see what goes on behind the scenes of our agency.  Ruthanne gives a brief introduction, and the guests take a private tour through each area of our new building. We explain the path a child takes when they’re brought to us and how each of our partners work in tandem to help children and families heal. The CAC and CASA programs share an impactful story and the information sparks a passion in every visitor to become more involved in making a difference for so many vulnerable lives. We held five of these Tours in 2021 and had 51 attendees. We will continue hosting these at 5:30 pm on the last Tuesday of each month in 2022 with small bites and beverages. Please contact LMoore@cafb.org if you would like to talk about attending the next Sip n’ Stroll or sign up your group.

Multi-Purpose Buildings 1 & 2

The COVID-19 pandemic forced us to move many of our services, programming and events outside to our parking lot to ensure health and safety through social distancing and continue to meet our obligations to serve children. This proved to be an ideal location to host drive-through events including our annual Christmas Toy Distribution, Children’s Fall and Spring Semester Incentive Parties, Annual Toy Drive, National Adoption Day and High School Graduation celebrations along with other outdoor activities for foster youth. As we returned to in-person business and services this meant more supplies, toys, books, clothing and other items which we currently store in the Treasure Room inside our main building which has been overflowing. To accommodate a need for more space, we have added more capacity by upgrading an existing Building and building a Second Multi-Function Building and Pavilion in our rear parking lot. This extra space will house Treasure Room items for the children, event décor, building supplies as well as provide indoor and covered outdoor programming space to host outdoor events, toy distributions and incentive parties for the children and families with a covered pavilion, fans and lighting. These buildings are now full to the brim with donated items for the children, as well as supplies. It was utilized for the 2021 Christmas Toy Distribution and Pick-Ups with great ease and convenience. Come visit us to see the final touches and events happening in 2022.

Grantors

We are honored to welcome some new grantor friends who have joined in the support of our mission: The Harry S. and Isabel C. Cameron Foundation, Charlotte B. Proehl Foundation, The Rawley Foundation, and The Sunderland Foundation. THANK YOU to them and all the grantors who supported us in 2021 by helping us exceed our fundraising goals for the critical programming in CASA and CAC. Specifically, Astros Foundation, Charity Guild of Catholic Women, Cullen Trust for Health Care, John S. Dunn Foundation, Ecolab, Exchange Club of Fort Bend, William S. Farish Foundation, Fluor Golf for Greater Houston, Fort Bend County Child Welfare Board, Fort Bend Crime Victims Response Team (CVRT), Fort Bend County Commissioners Court – Family Protection Fees and Fort Bend County American Rescue Plan Act, Fort Bend Junior Service League, Charles A. Frueauff Foundation, The George Foundation, Goodman Financial, Gulf Coast Medical Foundation, Henderson-Wessendorff Foundation, Herzstein Charitable Foundation, In-N-Out Burger Foundation, Marek Family Foundation, Niagara Cares Foundation, Fred and Mabel R. Parks Foundation, William A and Madeline Welder Smith Foundation, State Farm, Walmart, Union Pacific.

 –Tarina Sheridan, Events Specialist and Lisa Moore, Development Director

 

 

DONOR IMPACT

We’re grateful for your generosity!  

Every November we get calls about what toys we need for Christmas and “how can we help”. This past year was no exception. Because we saw more children and families in 2021 than ever before, we obviously had a greater need for Christmas gifts.

The community showed up. It was truly magical. A GIANT toy drive was organized by Suzanne Slavin, with Fidelity National Title, Mary Titel with Hometrust Mortgage and Tammy McCall with Johnson Development. They put the word out to everyone in their circles and the toys arrived by truckloads!

Many of our own volunteers donated and some held Christmas parties where everyone who attended brought a gift for CAFB! Fort Bend Kustom Cycles showed up with a trailer from the donations they had been collecting at their shop! Fort Bend CAD adopted multiple families this year and brought everything!!

Children from The Foundations Montessori Kids for Peace school not only donated but they worked hard on making blankets for our Christmas gifts!

There are many other donors who are not pictured here and we could never say how grateful we are for each of your generosity and support. Because of you, so many children and families had a wonderful Christmas!

A huge thank you is due to Ron Ewer and Patrick Sexton with Legacy Ford and to Steve Benedettini who donated enough money to purchase 92 bikes for children who wanted and needed one this past holiday season! It was incredible to look around at all of those bikes knowing that SO many children were going to be making memories with them for a very long time.

CASE CLOSING CELEBRATION

Written by Jen Brown

“The work our staff and volunteers do is hard. However, it’s also important and beautiful. It changes lives and that’s why we are all here.”

Each year CAFB hosts 2 Case Closing celebrations to honor the volunteers who have closed CASA or CAC Mentoring cases within the previous 6 months. We come together as an agency, to include our board members, and talk about what a difference the volunteers have made. Each Advocacy Specialist or Supervisor presents a 2-3 minute snapshot of what the case dynamics were and how the volunteer assisted, advocated and tirelessly devoted themselves to these children and families. A gift is given and the volunteer has the opportunity to say a few words. It’s in these moments that the magic truly happens. Listening to our volunteers “why” and the impact that experience has made on them, personally, is what we leave thinking and talking about, and is what inspires us to keep going and doing more and more.  

 

WHAT THEY SAID ABOUT THEIR CASES

When one of the volunteers said she knows without a doubt that she and her co-CASA saved their child’s life… I got the chills. She’s correct. To hear the challenges he was facing and the decisions that those CASA volunteers made to dig deeper and keep asking questions and to keep advocating… they honestly did save his life.

What I am hearing is that this group of volunteers is FIERCE…Without you, the outcomes would have been completely different.

Ruthanne Mefford, CEO

 

Another CASA volunteer talked about his “why”. He was a foster child growing up and had some extremely difficult times because no one was checking in on him, or researching and looking into the placement he lived in. He strongly feels that if he had a CASA back then, many of his hardships would have been avoided. He talked about being grateful to have touched the life of a teenage boy with special needs and knows the bond he shared with him helped ease the stress and pain in this young mans life. He said he can now leave this case knowing that this wonderful teenager is in a home where he is well taken care of and loved for who he is and all of his critical needs are met. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the room after that.

Last month, our CEO, Ruthanne Mefford, stood up at the very end and said “What I am hearing is that this group of volunteers is FIERCE. You had to fiercely advocate, and you did it. You made a change and a difference in the lives of these children. Without you, the outcomes would have been completely different.”

Case Closings are one of my favorite evenings of the year. The work our staff and volunteers do is hard. However, it’s also important and beautiful. It changes lives and that’s why we are all here.

Here is the list of volunteers that we honored and celebrated:

David Barnett
Karen Beham
Jennifer Bell
Dana Clement
Maureen Crasta
Susan Crookson
Alexis Jackson
Sree Kumar
Margaret Morrison
Linda Munsie
Debra Poncik
Shawn Quinn
Lori Renfrow
Don-Carlos Scarborough
Mychelle Scott
Maria Sonnen
Bill Taylor
Jill Thaxton
Stephanie Weigel
Stacie-Marie Wilkins


 

FAREWELL & HAPPY RETIREMENT

Written by Courtney James and the CAC staff

 

Congratulations to Detective Juli Johnson who retired from Law Enforcement on December 30, 2021!

Detective Johnson served 32 years in law enforcement, 7 of those being at the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office and 5 of those being here at Child Advocates of Fort Bend. Juli was an instrumental part in bringing justice to many children that we have served at the CAC, and we congratulate her on this accomplishment and wish her the best of luck on future endeavors.

INTERVIEW WITH JULI

Wins
Making it 32 years in law enforcement and surviving CRT’s. To me there are no personal wins because it takes so many to accomplish so much, just for one child. It is always a team effort to reach the final goal of removing a predator from offending again and to help the child start healing.

Plans after retirement
Stay home with our animals and work around the house for now

Favorite memories
There are too many to have a favorite, and I’m too old to remember most of them

What will you miss most?
The people, the camaraderie, the stories (“cuz you can’t make this sh** up”), but mostly having lunch with my wife.

Farewells and highlights from the CAC team:

Juli has been a priceless gem! She served a tricky role as the MDT liaison and really owned that position to ensure positive working relationships among the partners. Her subtle sense of humor and evident sarcasm helped to lighten the mood when things got heavy around the office. She has always been dedicated to the work and remained sensitive to the experiences of the clients she worked with. The office and the CAC work will not be the same without her!

-Ophelia

 

Juli, thank you for that you have done at the CAC. You’re dedication and commitment to this work is truly appreciated! Enjoy your retirement!

-Martha

You will be missed around here. I’ll miss your sense of humor, your friendship (that doesn’t need to end!), and your dedication to our kids.

-Susan

A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove…But the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child.

-Unknown author

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.
Matthew 5:9

32 Years of Service

Endless investigations completed

Countless reports reviewed

Hours spent in court

Lots of meetings and phone calls

Many unforgettable experiences

So many citizens helped

A leader, a mentor, a friend.

(found on pinterest)

Juli, thank you so much for your servant heart, dedication and commitment to the children and families that we serve. It has been such an honor to get to know you this year and to say “hello” every morning on my way to the kitchen. 😊

Thank you for the bright light you have been to our agency and to our community. I am so excited for this next season of life for you and pray it’s filled with rest, time with your dogs, and a ton of joy! Life at CAFB will not be as peachy without you here!!!

-Lindamarie

 

 

 

 

 

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2022 Board of Directors:

Ms. Farha Ahmed

Ms. Eileen Akerson

Dr. Betty Baitland

Ms. Cynthia Barratt

Mr. Brian Covault

Ms. Jill Curtis

Ms. Caroline Fix

Mr. Joe Freudenberger

Ms. Valerie Golden

Ms. Barbara Jones

Ms. Rhonda Kuykendall

Mr. David M. Lanagan

Mr. Jim Lockwood

Mr. Bruce Longaker

Ms. Vickie Looney

Mr. Matthew Martin

Mr. Xavier Maza

Mr. Jim McClellan

Mr. Dexter McCoy

Ms. Carla Mondt

Mr. Irfan Motiwala

Ms. Nancy Olson

Mr. Darrell Roth

Ms. Pat Somers

Ms. Patti Tuma

Dr. John Vanderzyl

Ms. Shiroz Virani, OD