Having been raised by his mother since his father left him when he was 10, Meadows now volunteers for Court-Appointed Special Advocates, known as CASA, a nonprofit organization of volunteers who act as “voices” for abused and neglected children.
Now in his fifth year with Dallas CASA, he has advocated for two sets of brothers, one Black and the current set Hispanic. The National Court Appointed Special Advocate Association has 950 programs in 49 states.
Meadows, himself a Black man, said he can relate his life experiences growing up poor and without a father with his boys, who also have no father.
“Nobody ever welcomes turmoil, but we almost all benefit from it,” he declared. “The way they used to say in the old churches, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and there may be a lot of wisdom to that.”
Meadows is one of only 15% of volunteer advocates who are Black. However, 46% of the children removed from their homes in Dallas County in 2018 were Black, even though Black children make up only 21.4% of the county’s child population, according to Dallas CASA president and CEO Kathleen LaValle.
“I don’t think we have a real definitive theory as to why the disproportionality exists to the extent that it does,” LaValle stated. “Is there any bias on the part of those who are making reports? Those are all just questions as a community we ought to be asking ourselves.”
LaValle cited a 2016 report by the Child Welfare Information Gateway, a service of the Children’s Bureau of the Administration of Children and Families, that offered four possible explanations for this disproportionality.
The reasons could be the unique needs of children and families of color due to higher rates of poverty, racial bias and discrimination exhibited by caseworkers, child welfare system issues such as lack of resources for families of color and geographic context like region, state or neighborhood.
Steve Pemberton, author of A Chance in the World, who chronicled his abusive childhood in foster care, described himself as an “inheritor of generations of tragedy.”
“It’s difficult to describe all these years later what it’s like waking up every day as a child in fear for your life,” he said. “My biggest goal – the thing I wanted more than anything in the world – was a family.”
Pemberton shared his story as the guest speaker during Dallas CASA’s annual “Cherish the Children” luncheon, April 5 at the Omni Dallas Hotel.
Removed from an alcoholic mother and absent father and placed in foster care at 3 years old, Pemberton spent the next 13 years being mentally and physically tortured in his foster home. Without the support of a CASA volunteer, he sought refuge in school and books.
For Pemberton, who is now a chief human resources officer at WorkHuman and a husband and father, the impact of caring adults was life altering. A neighbor brought him a box of books after she noticed him reading the same book over and over, and he later lived with one of his teachers after leaving his abusive foster home. Knowing that people cared gave him the strength to keep pushing ahead to make a better life for himself.
Some of the steps Dallas CASA is taking to recruit more Black volunteers include hosting events targeting potential Black volunteers, working with fraternities and sororities, and maintaining a relationship with T.D. Jakes’ The Potter’s House, LaValle said.
“Our numbers aren’t as high as we would like them to be, but they’re rising, and the advocates we do have already serving today do incredible work for our kids,” she stated.
Last year, Dallas CASA served 3,330 children and as of July 31 were serving 95% of children in foster care, all of who come from Dallas County, she added.
The difference between a foster parent and a court-appointed special advocate is that a foster parent is licensed through Child Protective Services or through a child placement agency and is responsible for a child’s everyday needs. Being a foster parent is a compensated role, whereas a special advocate is a volunteer position whose role is to be the “eyes and ears” of the judge presiding over the child’s case by giving them information about the child’s circumstances, LaValle explained.
The volunteer may also form connections with the child by checking in on them and visiting them. That way the volunteer becomes a constant in a child’s life that is filled with uncertainty and change, she continued.
“The idea is to be sure that the child doesn’t give up hope or feel defined by what’s going on in their life, and that we make sure that they have a model of what a trusting, reliable adult looks like,” she said.
As for Meadows, when he is not busy playing sports or eating lunch with his boys, he is at court with them giving the judge information on the boys’ well-being.
Meadows said he has never turned down a case, but other potential volunteers may have an exaggerated idea of what qualifications they must meet in order to be a CASA volunteer.
“People are their own worst critics, and they just think they’re not capable of being a court-appointed special advocate,” he offered. “That sounds like a pretty big deal. It is as big of a deal as it is for a human being to reach out to help another human being. That is huge, but we are all capable of that charge.”
Robyn H. Jimenez/The Dallas Examiner contributed to this article from a Dallas CASA report.