Happy New Year!
We are in store for a great 2023 at Child Advocates of Fort Bend! We came off a very busy 2022 in which we served more children and families, added staff members, recruited and trained new volunteers, reached out to the community with safety presentations, and expanded our services. Here are just a few of the highlights from the past year:
- Served 3,833 children and families at CAFB.
- Trained 157 staff, volunteers, partners and community members in trauma-informed care through our TBRI Collaborative (Trust Based Relational Intervention)
- Trained new CASA Volunteer Advocates while continuing to provide 100% of children in foster care with a Volunteer Advocate!
- Applied Collaborative Family Engagement to all our cases so that children benefit from creating connections with family members and supportive adults
- Expanded Courtesy CASA services across the entire state of Texas and other states in the South, Midwest, and West
- Provided Care Coordination for victims of sex trafficking
- Conducted 1,253 forensic interviews to children who had been sexually abused, physically abused or witness to violence
- Provided 2,363 therapy sessions to help children heal from their abuse
- Achieved our one-year milestone with UT Health – McGovern Medical School with the addition of a psychiatric resident on site at our CAC
- Reached thousands of people in our community with 83 safety presentations to 22 organizations and schools
Behind all these statistics are stories of children healed, children being reunited with families, children finding their forever homes, and children graduating high school, going on to college and breaking the cycle of abuse and neglect.
And this doesn’t begin to capture the thousands of children and parents who received safety messaging so that child abuse was prevented. But our work is not over. For every child we served, there are 9 more child victims who have not spoken up about their abuse. Our vision to end the cycle of abuse inspires us every day to remain committed to making Fort Bend County safe for every child.
2023 is off to a great start and we are excited to have you join us as we embark on our 33rd year serving children and families. Thank you for your continuing support as we work towards our vision of ending the cycle of abuse.
For the Children’s Sake,
Ruthanne Mefford, CEO
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 2022 within each program at CAFB.
COURT APPOINTED SPECIAL ADVOCATES
What a year! As we look back on 2022, we recognize that it was transformative in so many ways- within our CASA cases, within our community and within our programming. We have so much to be thankful for and are so grateful for all the helping hands and hearts of service that helped make an impact on the children and families served this past year. It truly does take a village! And to our village, thank you. This work could not be done without YOU.
Our CASA volunteers dedicated over 7902 hours of advocacy work. Whether it was advocating in the courtroom, visiting with youth and families, advocating for medical/physical/educational/mental health needs, or collaborating with partner agencies, our 111 active volunteers with CASA cases worked tirelessly to ensure that the voices of their CASA youth were lifted, strengthened and heard. Our hats are off to you, our CASA Volunteers, who are in the trenches doing this work day in and day out. Thank you for never losing sight of the preciousness of the children you serve and doing all you can to help them find permanency and the love they deserve.
2022 also brought forth growth for many of the youth we serve. Our NEST and WINGS Programs had 74 participants throughout the year in community service projects, educational field trips, life skills workshops, incentive parties, and campus crawls. Each program focused on bringing forth new opportunities that these children and youth might not otherwise have. Most importantly, these new lived experiences provided opportunities for youth to learn, connect, and have fun.
Our CASA Program also worked toward transforming our community by dedicating hours every month to help cultivate a more trauma-informed community through the TBRI Fort Bend County Collaborative. This collaborative consists of local TBRI Practitioners from both public and private sectors to provide TBRI Caregiver Training within our community. The goal is to equip child welfare professionals, volunteers, teachers, juvenile justice professionals, and others who come into contact with youth in need with tools that bring healing and hope to vulnerable children and families. This year 190 individuals from our community participated in these trainings with the collective hope to learn how to better serve children and families with extensive trauma history. We are so grateful to be a part of a community that is proactively working toward understanding how trauma plays a role in the lives of so many children and families in our community.
Looking forward to 2023, we are ready to continue the important work we are doing in this community. To our volunteers, community, partners, colleagues, and board members, thank you for being a part of our “village” and for the meaningful impact you are making on the most vulnerable children and families in our community.
-We are excited to open up evening hours in the coming months to better accommodate our school-aged children and parents who work during the day. We are very focused on accessibility and our clients have indicated that these evening hours are more convenient for them.
-We have purchased new play therapy supplies for our play therapy rooms.
We are excited to be able to serve more children in 2023 and hope to provide over 3000 therapy sessions to help children heal next year.
A Year in Review
By Lindsey Castellanos
“Start with the end in mind.” This motto really helps shape the work we do in the community at Child Advocates of Fort Bend. What is the end for Community Outreach? It’s simple. No more child abuse. Internally and externally, we hear this bold statement from our CEO, Ruthanne Mefford often. It seems impossible, but each presentation or awareness event has the potential, and in fact, does change families forever.
We started off with a bang, educating adults with our suite of curriculum from Darkness to Light. These presentations are for adults to teach them about child sexual abuse and to offer solutions from early intervention techniques, conversation starters with children, all the way to making a report of suspected abuse. The Darkness to Light presentations give survivor accounts, expert information, and in-person dialogue so that all adults can enhance their skills for protecting children. We have educated over 200 adults who are members of our staff, volunteers of CAFB, leaders in the Christian and Muslim communities of faith, youth serving organizations, medical staff, educators, MOPS groups, and parents.
As our demand for prevention presentations to youth continued to increase, we knew we would need an army to accomplish this task. Of course, our volunteers and staff stepped right up to the challenge. They took off running into the schools to teach children K-5 about strategies to keep them safer, empowered to recognize red flags, and with tools to help them be a good friend to someone in need. Children of all ages can learn safety measures that are not based on fear, but recognize who a safe adult is, what a safe adult does or does not do, and healthy boundaries. Volunteers and staff present these scripted, research-based lessons to students in teams so we can assist any student that has more questions about our topics. Teaching children about abuse and neglect, bullying cyberbullying, healthy relationships, and digital dangers prepares them for the world as it is in an age-appropriate way. As we close out this year and look back at the 102 presentations we have completed, it’s no wonder the community is more aware of child abuse and neglect with better strategies to address safety with children of all ages.
Through our strengthened partnerships in the community with Access Health, Crime Victim’s Response Team, City of Richmond, LCISD, FBISD, and many houses of faith we were invited 15 different community events.
We were thrilled to bring back “Light of Hope” which is our public Child Abuse Prevention Month awareness event. This year we started a new partnership with the City of Richmond to host at Wessendorff Park. The
light hearted spirit of childhood could be felt as children ran through the park with bubbles and pinwheels. With over 100 families present, we educated them about the prevelance of child abuse in our commuity. Knowing that child abuse can occur in any family, regardless of their demographics, education or religious affiliation, we spoke about some simple strategies parents can use to make the environment for their child safer. We ended the festive evening under the stars watching a movie and enjoying a beautiful Texas Spring night.
In the end, we have met over 10,600 members of our community to share information that changes lives and keeps childhood as it should be, innocent and full of hope for the future. It’s been an amazing year to look back on, but our eyes are set on the future. We invite you to be part of the 2023 community education programs by inviting us out to speak. Our experienced staff and volunteers are passionate to help anyone in the community take safety to the next level for children. Take a look at what we have to offer and find a presentation that is right for you or your group. We cover a wide variety of topics and are always adding the latest research and are a resource in this field. We hope to see you at one of our Outreach events in 2023!
I have always believed strongly that Leadership and Culture are very important in every organization. Over the course of my working life, that belief was reinforced. But I also came to learn that the leadership skills to build and run a small organization differ from those needed in a larger organization. And moreover, large organizations require an even different skill set.
CAFB has been incredibly fortunate to have found just the right leadership at the just the right time to help our organization continue to grow. As we are currently on our 3rd CEO over the last 30 years, we continue to thrive and cultivate future leaders. Each one of our leaders was markedly different in terms of skills, focus and culture, but it worked!
Similarly, our Board of Directors has changed over the years. I believe that this Board is the pinnacle of Boards not just in Fort Bend or Texas, but perhaps nationally. When I joined in 2005, there were a number of Caucasian gentlemen with white hair on the Board. (And now I am one.) We had a few wonderful women, but it was more of a men’s team. To a large extent, you pick the people who say they want to get involved and that’s what happened.
Over the years, the Board made it a priority to become more diverse. Not so much to gain diversity for diversity’s sake, but because we realized that it broadened perspectives leading to better decisions and a more focused effort on our entire community. Today, our Board is quite diverse and reflects the Fort Bend Community to a much greater extent. What has not changed is the quality, integrity and desire to help of all our Board Members. It has been humbling to me to be able to work with each of them.
While our Leadership and Board are critical to success, the team that really makes CAFB what it is has been our Staff and Volunteers. The number of Staff has grown dramatically over the years as has the number of Volunteers needed to continue to provide a Volunteer with each child in foster care. Early in my time with the Board, we focused heavily on finding enough Volunteers, training Volunteers and retaining Volunteers. The 40 hours of classroom training seemed daunting to some prospective Volunteers. But we know that the most important factor in a good outcome for the child is having a CASA Volunteer.
We’ve seen big changes in our Volunteer programs. The reporting and paperwork, while still significant is now done in secure electronic systems housed in “The Cloud”. Beyond the initial training, we now offer continuing education on a variety of related topics. Being a Volunteer is now a much richer experience.
We do a much better job, in my opinion, of making sure that our Volunteers know that they are appreciated. My favorite activity has always been the “Case Closing” celebration we hold twice a year. We invite all the Volunteers, have a light dinner and then have a brief summary of each Case that has reached resolution by the CASA Supervisors. Each Volunteer may make comments about their role in the case. The stories are always amazing. They drive home how committed each Volunteer is and the incredible lengths they will go to in order to make sure the child has the best chance to recover and have a good life. There is always laughter and applause. Many times, there are tears. It’s all part of what our Volunteers do.
When I joined the Board, there were about an equal number of children being served by the CASA side of our organization and by the Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC). But over the years, the children needing the care of the CAC has grown much faster. At the same time, the number of services provided to each child has grown significantly. That means that we are continually looking to find and hire the best therapists, forensic interviewers, clinical family advocates, criminal court advocates, MDT Coordinators and the administrative staff to support them all. All of these people work in close coordination with our many Partners, many of whom are housed in our Building. We have County Attorneys, District Attorneys, Law Enforcement and CPS all in the same place to facilitate a Multi-Discipline Team model to assure the best possible outcome for each child. The number of people now housed in the building has more than tripled since I came on the Board. That leads us to the next big change, our facilities.
Joining the Board in 2005, I immediately stepped into our Capital Campaign. We had outgrown our second building by a long shot. One of our Board Members, Bob Brown, had been able to convince AT&T to sell us an old call center in Rosenberg. I remember touring the building and thinking it would make a better bomb shelter than an office. I also remember meeting a Volunteer named Ruthanne Mefford, with whom I would team on the Capital Campaign committee. I thought she was an amazing talent and was very pleased when several years later, she applied to replace our retiring Executive Director. At the time, we had people on the Board who were working in construction and they were able to manage the architectural design and construction of the building renovation. Using consultants helped us with the Capital Campaign and somehow, the new building was completed.
Fast forward twelve years and that building was now woefully insufficient to hold everyone. In addition, the utilities for the building were reaching the end of their life. Maintenance bills were increasing rapidly. New facilities were needed quickly. I was appointed Building Committee Chair and Nancy Olson became Capital Campaign Chair. Ruthanne was a member of both committees. The next 30 months did their best to kill us all, but somehow, we made it thru.
There were big changes to the new building. We had conference rooms! We had family meeting rooms! We finally had enough forensic interview rooms. No employees working out of closets. We finally entered the digital age with conference facilities with audio and video conferencing. We had a real server room for our systems. Our staff had laptops so they could work remotely – which made it possible to get thru COVID-19 lockdowns. We added parking to replace what the new building had taken. We added more storage in the back of our parking lot for our “lots of stuff” and also to provide an area for Volunteer activities.
The huge addition to Staff required that we step up our game in Human Resources. We had a Personnel Committee on the Board, but we really needed someone concentrating on HR. New policies and procedures were developed in cooperation with Texas CASA and Texas CAC. Also, over the years, both Texas CASA and CAC have asked CAFB to be the pilot location to try new, innovative programs. As a result, new programs have been rolled out across Texas successfully. Our reputation as being the model for helping children has grown immensely.
For me, it has been an honor to serve on the Board and to meet and work with all these wonderful people.
Another big change has been in our ability to fundraise. Helping the hundreds of children and families takes money. In 2008, we realized that we would need to improve. We started with our grant writing efforts. I was asked to start a Grant Writing committee. To be honest, we just started doing what I had learned long ago in “Sales 101”. We researched the best prospects and then concentrated on developing well written grants. Within 2 years, we had doubled the money from grants. But that was not enough.
We hired consultants to teach our Leadership, Board and Staff what it took to fundraise at a more professional level. Everything changed! From the way we identified potential donors, to the ways we exposed them to our mission, to the way we developed strong relations and to the way we asked for donations. Our formal fundraisers like our Gala and Christmas Home Tour have also benefitted from what we learned. Further, we learned how to engage our donors on an ongoing basis and how to help them understand, specifically, how their investments were helping the children and our community. We would never have been able to get to this point without completely revamping our fundraising methods. An added benefit is that we have developed strong, sustainable bonds with our donors and learned what wonderful, caring people they are. Donors have even brought us new ideas to help improve how we can interact with them. It’s been very rewarding.
Our mission is helping those who have been abused or neglected, but we also came to realize that we needed to think beyond our mission toward the prevention of abuse. Several years ago, Ruthanne established a team to reach out into our community to proactively raise awareness about child abuse. What better place to start than the schools? Our Staff has visited hundreds of schools and reached thousands of children to help them understand what they might expect if someone is grooming them for abuse or trafficking. We are teaching them how to report abuse. And we are teaching adults how to recognize signs of abuse. The team has also engaged other community organizations as well. Awareness in our community of the child abuse problem has significantly increased as a result of their efforts.
Since I joined the Board in 2005, there have been changes to all parts of CAFB. It’s easier to spot the things that have not changed. We still have a unique business model of housing both CASA and CAC in one facility. We still use a highly collaborative approach to cases with our Partners. We still have our Partners in our building. We still have wonderful supporters in the Community. Our staff continues to be the most committed and highly trained team for which we could ask. Our volunteers are still the best and most informed of any in Texas (and maybe Nationally). We still have a Volunteer for each child. Our Board Members still bring their talents and time to us joyfully. We still have excellent outcomes overall for the children in our care. It seems to me that these are all the things that we will never want to change. For me, it has been an honor to serve on the Board and to meet and work with all these wonderful people.
January 11, 2023
Wear BLUE day
Light the Way
End Human Trafficking
Join Department of Family & Protective Services staff and take photos of friends, family, yourself and colleagues wearing blue clothing and then share them on social media – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram – along with the #WearBlueDay hashtag and @cafortbend handle.
Tag DFPS on social media using handle: @TexasDFPS
Email photos to: HumanTrafficking@dfps.texas.gov