CASA VOLUNTEERS are the eyes and ears of the court
Answers to some Common Questions
- What is a CASA volunteer?
A Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer is a trained citizen who is appointed by a judge to represent the best interest 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 a carefully researched background of the child to help the court make a sound decision about that child’s future. Each case is as unique as the child involved and the CASA volunteer works to learn each child’s situation. The CASA volunteer makes best interests recommendation regarding thing like where a child should be living, what services are needed to help the family, when it is time for the child to return to their home or if they should be freed for permanent adoption. The CASA volunteer follows the child and family closely and makes recommendations to the Judge all along the way until the child has found a safe and permanent home.
- How does a CASA volunteer investigate a case?
To prepare best interest recommendations, the CASA volunteer visits with the child in a variety of environments. Volunteers meet with and talk to parents, family members, social workers, school officials, health providers and any one able to provide valuable understanding of the child and the child’s history. The CASA volunteer also works to assess progress through records pertaining to the child and the family– school, medical, service providers, and caseworker reports; and other documents.
- Is there a “typical” CASA volunteer?
CASA volunteers come from all walks of life (both men and women), with a variety of professional, educational and ethnic backgrounds. The common thread for volunteers is a heart to help children find safe, permanent homes.
- How does the CASA volunteer relate to the child he or she represents?
CASA volunteers offer children a safe, consistent adult during a confusing and difficult time. They explain the events that are happening, the reasons they all are in court, the roles the judge, lawyers, and social workers play in an age appropriate manner. CASA volunteers also encourage the child to express his or her own opinion and hopes, while remaining best interest advocates.
- How much time does it require?
Each case is different. A CASA volunteer usually spends about five-ten hours per month. Some more complicated cases may take more time and some cases require less. Each month volunteers can count on spending time meeting with the children, checking in with and/or meeting with the parents, and reviewing service updates. Volunteers also spending time attending the Child and Family Team meetings, attending court, and writing their court reports. Much of the appointments are set by the volunteer and can be flexible around the volunteer’s schedule. What isn’t flexible the volunteer has plenty of notice about beforehand to make arrangements. Aside from their CASA volunteer work, approximately 50% of volunteers work outside of the home.
- How many cases on the average does a CASA volunteer carry at a time?
The CASA program works to assign volunteers to just one case/family at a time. This allows the volunteer to spend ample time getting to know the child(ren) and family well. When the CASA program doesn’t have enough volunteers to cover all of the cases we will ask volunteers who have the time to take a second case but this is not preferred.
- How long does a CASA volunteer remain involved with a case?
The volunteer is asked to continue with a case until it is permanently resolved. Turnover is unfortunately high in social services and often case managers and services providers need to change. CASA volunteers can be one of the only consistent figures during a case and we value the continuity for the child and for the understanding of the case.
- How does a CASA volunteer differ from a Family Case Manager?
The primary difference is that Family Case Managers are employees of the State who are tasked with protecting children from abuse and neglect, maintaining or reunifying families whenever possible and locating permanent homes or independent living situations for children who are unable to be reunited with their families. These Family Case Managers often work on as many as 30 cases at a time and are required to comply with the state policies and directives.
In contrast the CASA volunteer’s role is to monitor and advocate for each individual child’s best interest. The much smaller caseload offers the ability to have a more concentrated and child centered perspective. The CASA volunteer does not replace a Family Case Manager but works alongside the Family Team to find the best resolution for the Child. The CASA volunteer examines a case through the child’s perspective and offers an independent assessment of the child’s best interest for the Judge. Many times the recommendations of the CASA volunteer is similar to the Family Case Manager’s recommendations giving the Judge confidence and clarity to make good decisions for the child.
- How does the role of a CASA volunteer differ from an attorney?
An Attorney represents their client’s interests in the courtroom. CASA volunteers are not attorneys but rather are “Best Interest Advocates”. Where an attorney must act according to the client’s wishes, a best interest advocate will learn the child’s wishes and take them into consideration with all of the collateral information they acquire. CASA volunteers report to the judge what the child wants but makes recommendations based on all of the information. For example, a child may want to go back to their home even though the parents are still actively using drugs and are unable to provide for the child’s needs. The volunteer’s report will express the child’s wishes but will recommend the child remain in care. Best Interest Advocacy requires a full understanding of the child and their whole situation.
- What difference do CASA programs make?
Studies show 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 volunteer. Children with CASA volunteers also do better in school and are more likely to have a consistent trusted adult in their lives. Judges report they rely on CASA reports to provide a thorough assessment of the child’s best interest.