HOW CASA VOLUNTEERS SERVE AS A CHILD'S VOICE IN COURT
What is a CASA volunteer?
A Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer is a trained citizen who is requested by a judge to represent the best interests of a child in court. Children helped by CASA volunteers include those for whom home placement is being determined in juvenile court. Most of the children are victims of abuse and neglect.
What is the CASA volunteer's role?
A CASA volunteer provides a judge with carefully researched background of the child to help the court make a sound decision about that child’s future. Each home placement case is as unique as the child involved. The CASA volunteer must determine if it is in a child’s best interest to stay with his or her parents or guardians, be placed in foster care, or be freed for permanent adoption. The CASA volunteer makes a recommendation on placement to the judge, and follows through on the case until it is permanently resolved.
How does a CASA volunteer investigate a case?
To prepare a recommendation, the CASA volunteer talks with the child, parents, family members, social workers, school officials, health providers and others who are knowledgeable about the child’s history. The CASA volunteer also reviews all records pertaining to the child -- school, medical and case worker reports; and other documents.
How does a CASA volunteer differ from a social service caseworker?
Generally speaking, state governments employ social workers. They sometimes work on as many as 60 cases at a time and are frequently unable to conduct a comprehensive investigation of each. The CASA volunteer has more time and a smaller caseload (an average of 1-2 cases at a time). The CASA volunteer does not replace a social worker on a case; he or she is an independent appointee of the court. The CASA volunteer can thoroughly examine a child’s case, has knowledge of community resources, and can make a recommendation to the court independent of state agency restrictions.
How does the role of a CASA volunteer differ from an attorney?
The CASA volunteer does not provide legal representation. That is the role of the attorney. However, the CASA volunteer does provide crucial background information that assists attorneys in presenting their cases. It is important to remember that CASA volunteers do not represent a child’s wishes in court. Rather, they tell the court what the child's wishes are, and then they exercise their own independent judgment to determine whether those wishes are actually in the best interest of the child.
Is there a "typical" CASA volunteer?
CASA volunteers come from all walks of life, with a variety of educational and ethnic backgrounds. There are more than 52,000 CASA volunteers nationally. Local programs vary in number of volunteers they utilize. Aside from their CASA volunteer responsibility, 50 percent are employed in regular full-time jobs, and the majority tends to be professionals. Eighty-two percent of the volunteers nationwide are women; 18 percent are men.
How does the CASA volunteer relate to the child he or she represents?
CASA volunteers offer children trust and advocacy during complex legal proceedings. They explain to the child the events that are happening, the reasons they all are in court, and the roles the judge, lawyers, and social workers play. CASA volunteers also encourage the child to express his or her own opinion and hopes, while remaining objective observers.
How many cases on average does a CASA volunteer carry at a time?
The number varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but an average caseload is one to two.
Do lawyers, judges and social caseworkers support CASA?
Yes. Juvenile and family court judges implement the CASA program in their courtrooms and appoint volunteers. CASA has been endorsed by the American Bar Association; National Bar Association; National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, and Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention of the U.S. Department of Justice.
Does the federal government support CASA?
CASA is a priority project of the Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. The office encourages the establishment of new CASA programs, assists established CASA programs, and provides partial funding for the National CASA Association.
How many CASA programs are there?
There are now 900 CASA programs across the country including Washington, D.C. and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
How effective have CASA programs been?
Research suggests that children who have been assigned CASA volunteers tend to spend less time in court and less time within the foster care system than those who do not have CASA representation. Judges have observed that CASA children also have better chances of finding permanent homes than non-CASA children.
How much time does it require?
Each case is different. A CASA volunteer usually spends about 10 hours doing research and conducting interviews prior to the first court appearance. More complicated cases take longer. Once initiated into the system, volunteers work about 10-15 hours a month.
How long does a CASA volunteer remain involved with a case?
The volunteer continues until the case is permanently resolved. One of the primary benefits of the CASA program is that, unlike other court principals who often rotate cases, the CASA volunteer is a consistent figure in the proceedings, and provides continuity for a child.
Are there any other agencies or groups that provide the same service?
There are other pro bono child advocacy organizations, but CASA is the only national program using carefully screened and trained community volunteers who are appointed by the court to represent a child’s best interests.
What children are assigned CASA volunteers?
Children who are victims of abuse and neglect who have become wards of the court are assigned CASA volunteers. The program is most common in juvenile and family court cases.
What is the role of the National CASA Association?
The National CASA Association is a non-profit organization that provides training, technical assistance, research, media and public awareness services to members. We work with state and local CASA and volunteer guardian ad litem programs to promote and support quality volunteer advocacy to help assure each child a safe, permanent, nurturing home
How is CASA funded?
At the local level, CASA programs are generally funded through a combination of private and public funds. Many programs are privately funded through service organizations such as the Junior League and the National Council of Jewish Women. The National CASA Association is funded through a combination of private grants, federal funds (U.S. Justice Department), memberships and contributions.