November 2023 Advocate Spotlight: Lacey Bankhead
We invite you to meet Lacey Bankhead, nominated by her Case Supervisors, Mike Quinn and Sol O’Leary. Lacey is an Advocate on three cases, two child welfare cases and one Justice-Involved Youth (JIY) case. She is a member of the first class of Advocates for Justice-Involved Youth and began advocating for a youth involved in the juvenile justice system quickly after she was sworn in.
“Lacey is an incredible Advocate,” said Sol, who supervises Lacey’s child welfare cases. “She goes above and beyond what is required so that she can support the children in her cases and their families*. She takes on every challenge a case brings and works hard to ensure a child’s best interest is met.”
Justice-Involved Youth Coordinator Mike Quinn said that Lacey’s initiative has made her a fantastic fit for Justice-Involved Youth. “Lacey is incredibly curious and inquisitive, and she never loses sight of the child in need at the heart of the case,” he said. “She is pleasantly relentless and an asset to any case she works on.”
We asked Lacey to share her experiences as an Advocate, both in child welfare and Justice-Involved Youth.
Is there anything unique about your background that contributes to your approach to advocacy?
A few things culminated in getting me to Child Advocates of Montgomery County. Not only did I completely enjoy motherhood and homeschooling, which gave me an understanding of loving and nurturing a child, CASA has a special place in my heart because my family history is dotted with childhood abuse. It’s vitally important to me to help in this capacity as I understand the trauma and lifelong scars childhood abuse brings. My professional background in business ownership also honed the skills that are needed on the backend of being a CASA Advocate.
How did you become interested in volunteering as AN aDVOCATE?
A friend of mine really encouraged me to look into it. She knew about it from working with another Advocate in her professional life. She believed my natural skill set would bring benefit to the world of Child Advocates of Montgomery County. As soon as I attended a gala and heard the story that year, I was hooked. I knew I needed to pursue it.
Why did you decide to expand your advocacy to Justice-Involved YoutH?
From the outset of becoming an Advocate, I had a deep longing to work with older youth and teens. I also really enjoy challenging tasks that allow me to be curious, thoughtful, and intentional. I knew my motivation and drive would be beneficial to grow this new division of CASA as a pilot program for the state of Texas.
Did you have any reservations about volunteering?
I was concerned about the time that CASA would require of me. But, that has never become an issue in reality. From the moment I met the child on my first case, I recognized that he needed me; I would find every minute needed for the advocacy and life of this precious child. The time spent on my cases is an honor and privilege that far surpasses anything else I could be doing.
Explain in your own words the work you do as a CASA aDVOCATE. Why is it essential for a child in foster care?
When we are assigned a new case and we are putting puzzle pieces together, we often find that the children and youth in care don’t have the support they need. Being an Advocate means that you get to find the resources to support the whole child. From their medical needs to their educational needs, our work takes into consideration every part of that child and how we can assist to help them succeed.
Explain the work you do as an Advocate in justice-Involved Youth cases. Why is it important for children involved in the Juvenile justice system?
It’s a bit of the same. What I have found that is different is that in JIY cases, the youth have made choices that brought them into the system, not the parents. Yet, what we have discovered is that the same brokenness that brings youth into JIY are some of the same reasons that children are in CPS care. We are working through some of the same challenges and trauma, yet our mission to advocate for children and youth remains the same. We are there when no one else is—standing in the gap and wearing many hats.
What has surprised you most about your aDVOCACY work?
I thought I would receive more pushback from teachers, attorneys, families, etc. But, people are so welcoming. They see that we are working hard to advocate for a child’s or youth’s best interest. The community sees that we are an extra set of hands, love, and expertise that can help.
What has been the most difficult aspect of being an advocate?
For me, the most difficult thing is twofold—a case coming to an end and saying goodbye to the child. I put my heart and hard work into CASA and love these children and youth. Secondly, the self-doubt that can come when earnestly making a recommendation to the court about where a child should find a permanent home.
The most rewarding part of being an Advocate is to see a child or a youth flourish. I delight in seeing them start to get better grades at school or overcome a speech difficulty. I enjoy watching them grow, change, and explore their world as their confidence grows with the support we offer.
What would you like the community to know about children involved in the child welfare system?
They need you. Whether you can offer your hours at a food bank, donate books and items children need, or spend your time as an Advocate, it’s all work that needs to be done. It’s hard work, but worthy work.
What would you like the community to know about children involved in the Juvenile justice system?
Just because a youth makes a bad decision doesn’t mean they are bad, criminal, or should be written off. Every youth has a story and a history that often has brokenness and trauma. They are incredibly deserving of the same time, love, and affection as any other youth, and even more so.
Is there a particular moment or memory that stands out for you?
One of the children won a “Student of the Month” award for her school. To see her face light up when she felt seen and realized her dedication to schoolwork paid off was a shining moment to me that I will never forget. It’s the little things.
anything else you want to share about Child Advocates of Montgomery County?
If you are considering volunteering, I would think on two things: Are you capable of seeing and dealing with hard things? We revolve around work that requires a great deal of mental and emotional fortitude. Lastly, in my years as a successful businesswoman, I have never understood fulfillment and satisfaction as I have as a CASA Advocate. It is truly the most significant service I have ever done. It is my constant prayer that I will be able to continue as an Advocate for life.
* Lacey recently helped a single mom on one of her cases obtain a vehicle from God’s Garage, a nonprofit in Montgomery County, Texas, that provides reliable transportation to single mothers, widows, and wives of deployed military in need.