What function do Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteers serve?
CASA volunteers are trained to act as first-hand experts on the individual needs of abused and neglected children in foster care, giving them the best possible chance at a hopeful future.
As an appointed member of the court, a CASA volunteer assumes the following core responsibilities:
- Serve as a fact-finder for the judge by thoroughly researching the background of the assigned case
- Speak on behalf of the child in the courtroom, representing his or her best interests
- Act as a "watchdog" for the child for the duration of the case, ensuring it is brought to a swift and appropriate conclusion
How are CASA volunteers assigned to cases?
Judges typically assign CASA volunteers to the most difficult and complex cases involving physical or sexual abuse and neglect. Several other factors are also considered in making this decision:
- The instability of the child's current placement
- The presence of conflicting case information
- Concerns about the implementation of special services, such as medical care, counseling and education assistance
What are the qualifications to become a CASA volunteer?
Commitment: The vast majority of cases last one to three years, and the amount of time spent on a case per month typically range between 10-20 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.
What is the process to become a CASA volunteer?
CASA volunteers undergo a thorough training and development program that consists of at least 40 hours of pre-service training, followed by 12 hours of yearly in-service training. Volunteers learn about courtroom procedure from the principals in the system: judges, lawyers, social workers, court personnel and others. CASA volunteers also learn effective advocacy techniques for children, and are educated about specific topics ranging from seminars on child sexual abuse to discussions on early childhood development and adolescent behavior.
After completion of the initial training, volunteers are sworn in as officers of the court. This gives them the legal authority to conduct research on the child's situation and submit reports to the court.
What does it mean to be a certified CASA program?
The 1,000 plus local and state member CASA program offices adhere to formal standards set by National CASA and are required to pass a quality assurance review, which is administered every four years. This self-assessment is a course of action taken by local programs in order to evaluate and improve their operations.
Staff teams work together to answer 446 questions and gather 58 supporting documents for submission to National CASA. Professionals outside the CASA network determine overall compliance by conducting an independent review of the standards self-assessment instrument and supporting documentation. Programs must address any compliance concerns within six months in order to maintain CASA membership.
What makes CASA different from other organizations?
The CASA Kane County Organization is the only program that is appointed by the judge and sworn under oath to advocate for the best interests of children. There is no other organization in the county that recruits, trains and case manages community volunteers to provide child advocacy in abuse/neglect and probate courts.
Why is the work of CASA Kane County program needed?
Every day four children in the U.S. die from child abuse and neglect. DCFS receives on an average of 4,000 hotline calls each year alone in Kane County. Caseworkers, treatment providers, foster placements, and attorneys change frequently during the course of a case. The CASA volunteer is the one consistent person advocating for the minor(s) throughout the life of the case.
What is a CASA volunteer?
A Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) is a trained volunteer who is appointed by the Judge as Guardian ad Litem to represent the best interests of abused and neglected children. A CASA volunteer is appointed to one case at a time, and remains on the case until it is closed. Cases last an average of two years. By being independent investigators and advocates, our volunteers can make all the difference in these children’s lives. Research shows that children with a CASA volunteer are much less likely to languish in long-term foster care.
What is the CASA volunteer’s role?
A CASA volunteer provides consistency to the child and ensures that their special needs and best interests are adequately represented in court. The CASA program makes certain that the best interests of abused and neglected children are the primary focus of every decision made by the Juvenile Court Judge. This is accomplished by meeting monthly with the children on their case, interviewing anyone who has relevant information to the case, researching records (medical, school, DCFS), monitoring the family’s compliance with court orders (to receive counseling services, participate in anger management classes, etc.), attending school meetings and DCFS staffings, preparing reports for the judge prior to all court hearings, and participating in court hearings.
How does a CASA volunteer differ from a social service caseworker?
Social Service Caseworkers generally are employed by state governments or other contracted agencies. They work on multiple cases at a time and are responsible for arranging or making referrals for services for parents and children. The CASA volunteer is assigned to only one case at a time, and therefore is able to invest in the case with the children’s best interests being the sole focus. The CASA volunteer does not replace a social service caseworker on the case; he or she is an independent appointee of the court. The CASA has knowledge of community resources and can make independent recommendations to the court, while the social service caseworker is often restricted by agency or state budgets, policies and procedures.
How does a CASA volunteer differ from an attorney?
The CASA volunteers have the ability to introduce motions, evidence and elicit testimony through their court-appointed attorney. The CASA/GAL provides crucial background information that assists attorneys in presenting their cases. It is important to remember that while CASA volunteers will inform the court about a child’s wishes, their role is to speak to the child’s best interests.
Shouldn’t every abused/neglected child be permanently removed from the abusive caregiver?
CASA volunteers work in partnership with key professionals in determining the best outcome for each child. Removal from a family of origin is always a traumatic event that can create lifelong problems for a child. In some cases, a family can be provided resources, support and training that will help a troubled family system find healthy ways to interact and provide care. There are many achievable positive outcomes for a child— reunification, adoption, independent living or guardianship with relatives are the most viable answers to the child’s need for a safe, permanent home.
Does the CASA remain involved in the child’s life after the case is closed?
It is entirely up to the CASA and the family whether there is any continued involvement. Once the case is closed, CASA no longer has legal standing in regards to the child. However, some CASAs do maintain contact, at least checking in with the family every so often to see how the child is doing. This is typical in those cases in which the foster family adopts the child or minor transitions to independence. When biological families maintain custody, they may want to sever ties with anyone associated with the court system.
What is the role of the National CASA Association and how many programs exist?
The National CASA Association is a nonprofit organization that represents and serves local CASA programs. It provides training, technical assistance, research, media, and public awareness services to members. All CASA programs must pass a comprehensive quality assessment in order to retain their membership status with the national organization. There are over 1,000 programs throughout the United States and 34 programs within the State of Illinois.
What is being said about CASA Kane County’s work?
According to Kane County’s State’s Attorney, “CASA is the conscience of the courtroom.” Volunteers say things like, “It’s about helping a child replace fear with hope,” and “I am the one consistent person in this child’s life.” In addition, the Judges at the Illinois Child Welfare Summit in 2007 are saying, “CASA is the number one strength within the Juvenile Court system.”
How effective is the CASA Kane County Program?
Last year, 99% of our volunteers’ recommendations were accepted by the Judge. Children who suffer abuse and neglect are at-risk of becoming juvenile delinquents, or worse, violent adult criminals. A major factor in preventing these outcomes is the presence of a concerned and consistent adult in that child’s life. CASA Kane County is appointed to 100% of abuse and neglect cases in the Juvenile Court and all children represented by a CASA last year did not experience a recurrence of abuse and neglect.
Who benefits from the work of CASA?
The direct beneficiaries are the over 500 children served each year under the Juvenile and Probate Court system. The Court benefits from our work as we assist Judges in making difficult decisions that determine the child's immediate living situation and his or her future. The entire community benefits in the long term as children who are given a better life will grow into happier, healthier and more productive adults who provide positive care and support for their children, rather than continue the cycle of abuse.
Why does CASA Kane County need money if the program consists of unpaid volunteers?
It is necessary to maintain an experienced professional staff to recruit, train and case manage volunteers. There are also administrative, fundraising and operating expenses involved in running an extensive nonprofit organization that must maintain transparency and compliance.
What are the benefits to supporting CASA Kane County?
By helping to save a child from a life of abuse and neglect, we provide an alternative to the cycle of victims becoming abusers and passing on the heredity of violence. Abused and neglected children have an advocate who is committed to and solely focused on that child’s welfare. CASA kids don’t “fall through the cracks of the child welfare system.” In addition to giving back to the community, you will receive a charitable deduction.
Our annual operating budget is $1,300,000 a year that includes volunteer time that totals over 16,000 hours a year along with in-kind donations. We do not receive any state or federal funding.
Since CASA is a national organization, does my money stay local?
Absolutely it does – 100% stays local as each CASA program runs independently. Illinois CASA and the National CASA Association are supportive of local programs and provide valuable information regarding marketing and grant opportunities. We pay a minimum annual membership fee.
What can I do to help?
The most important thing you can do is participate with whatever resources you deem appropriate. We also encourage you to stay informed. Watch your mail and newspaper on upcoming events and programs. Understand how your dollars are making a difference, and please stop by the office anytime to learn firsthand how your support is making a difference.
Click here to read "5 Big Questions" answered by the National CASA Association.