People from all walks of life become CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) volunteers, but they all have one thing in common: a heart for children and a desire to make a positive impact in their lives during a time when they need it the most.
In court proceedings involving abused and neglected children, a CASA provides an unbiased, child-focused point of view that is vital to help determine what situations will allow a child to thrive. In most cases, the children represented by CASA have been removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect. A judge then must decide if a child can safely return home to his or her family or if a permanent home must be arranged to keep a child healthy and safe. When considering the actions of parents or child welfare agencies, it’s the child who has the most at stake and their needs can often be overlooked. The CASA volunteer and organization acts as the voice for each child to ensure their best interests are in the forefront.
What is the role of the CASA?
A CASA provides a judge with a carefully researched background of the child to help the court make sound decisions about the child’s future. Each case is as unique as the child or children involved. The CASA must determine if it is in a child’s best interest to stay with his or her parents or guardians, be placed in foster or relative care, or be freed for permanent adoption. The CASA makes a recommendation on placement and services to the judge and continues on the case until the child is placed in a safe, permanent home.
Is there a “typical” CASA?
Diversity is valued and provides a foundation of strength to our program. The CASA program is composed of both male and female volunteers over 21 years of age who may be employed full-time or part-time, or retired, with a variety of professional, educational and ethnic backgrounds. No special or legal background is required. However, volunteers are screened closely for objectivity, competence and commitment.
How many cases on average does a CASA carry at a time?
The number varies, but on average each CASA carries one or two cases at a time. CASA volunteers are not assigned, but are asked to take a case. CASA volunteers always have the right to turn down a case.
What training does a CASA receive?
CASA trainees undergo a thorough one-time, 30-hour training, typically conducted each quarter to meet the need for more volunteer Advocates to serve the children. Volunteers learn about courtroom procedures, effective advocacy techniques and are educated about specific topics ranging from child sexual abuse to early childhood development and adolescent behavior. Cultural awareness and sensitivity are also part of the training curriculum. The culmination of the initial training is the swearing-in ceremony with the Juvenile Court Judges where CASA volunteers become sworn officers of the Court.
How does the CASA relate to the child he/she represents?
The CASA interviews the child he/she represents, if the child is old enough to talk. If not, the CASA observes the child’s interactions with the various people involved in the child’s life. The CASA offers the child a trust-based relationship and advocacy, both within and outside the courtroom, during complex legal proceedings. The CASA explains to the child the events that are happening and the roles the judge, lawyers, social workers and others play. The CASA also encourages the child to express his or her own opinions, fears, and hopes and conveys those to the court.
How long does a CASA remain with a case?
The CASA continues on the case until the case is removed from the court docket. The goal is to have the child’s case safely and permanently resolved. One of the primary benefits of the CASA program is that, unlike many others who often leave the case, the CASA is a consistent figure in the court proceedings and the child’s life, providing much needed continuity for the system and, more importantly, for the child.
Are there any other agencies or groups that provide the same service?
No. There are other child advocacy organizations, but CASA is the only program in which volunteers are appointed as officers of the court by the judge to represent a child’s best interest.
Which children are assigned a CASA?
Children who are victims of sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, or neglect, for whom cases have been filed in the Juvenile Court, may be assigned a CASA by the judge.
Do lawyers, judges and social service caseworkers support CASA?
Yes. Juvenile and family court judges implement the CASA program in their courtrooms and appoint the volunteers.
How effective have CASA programs been?
Research shows that children who have been assigned a CASA tend to spend less time in the court system and less time in the foster care system than those who do not have CASA representation.
What are the qualifications to become a CASA volunteer?
Commitment: The vast majority of cases last one to two years, and the amount of time spent on a case per month typically averages 10 hours. Volunteers must make case time a priority in order to provide quality advocacy.
Objectivity: Volunteers research case records and speak to everyone involved in a child’s life, including their family members, teacher, doctor, lawyer, social worker and others. Their third-party evaluations are based on facts, evidence and testimonies.
Communication skills: Once a volunteer has fully evaluated a case, they prepare a written report outlining their recommendation for the child’s placement. They must be able to speak with authority as they present their rationale to the judge in court.
The next training will be offered in November. Contact casaofohiovalley.org or 270-683-2138.