What does CASA Kane County do?
CASA Kane County recruits, trains and supervises community volunteers to advocate for the best interests of abused, neglected and private guardianship minors under the age of 21. CASA/GAL volunteers are a diverse group of volunteers who spend time with the children, families, teachers, therapists and medical professionals to collect information that helps the Judge make the best interest decisions to ensure each child’s needs remain a priority in an over-burdened child welfare system.
What is a CASA/GAL volunteer?
A Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) and Guardian ad Litem (GAL) is recruited, trained and supervised by a CASA Kane County Advocate Supervisor and appointed by a Judge to represent the best interests of abused and neglected children during a dependency case.
Why is a CASA/GAL volunteer needed?
The CASA/GAL volunteer is often the only one constant person advocating for the minor(s) throughout the duration of the case, often holding the child’s history, and providing a caring and supportive person that the child can trust. The on-going presence of a CASA/GAL volunteer helps prevent children from languishing in foster care and ensures a safe and permanent home.
Who are the children CASA Kane County serves?
In 2013, there were nearly 600 children in abuse/neglect or probate court (private guardianship) in Kane County. Children have often been removed from everything familiar—home, family, friends, and school—and find themselves in a world filled with social workers, lawyers, judges and courtrooms where life-altering decisions are being made on their behalf. The majority of children are placed outside of their home with relatives, in foster homes, shelters or residential facilities. Children do not live with their CASA/GAL volunteers and cannot be driven in their cars for their own safety and protection.
How are CASA/GAL volunteers assigned to cases?
After the child(ren) are removed from their home due to unsafe living conditions, a shelter care hearing takes place within 48 hours. At this court hearing is when the Judge will appoint CASA Kane County as the Guardian ad Litem (GAL) to the chil(ren). CASA Kane County then collects as much information as possible to best match the child(ren) with the experiences, expertise and geographic location of each CASA/GAL volunteer.
What is the role of the CASA/GAL volunteer?
CASA/GAL volunteers meet with the child, parents, family members, teachers, social workers, medical professionals and any others that will help give him/her information relevant to maintaining the safety and best interests of the child(ren). CASA/GAL volunteers are third party investigators who collect information and prepare a summarized report for the Judge prior to every court hearing. This information helps the Judge determine the best outcome for each child.
What are the qualifications to become a CASA/GAL volunteer?
Prospective volunteers must be at least 21 years of age, attend a CASA Kane County General Information Meeting, complete an application, undergo background checks and fingerprinting, interviews with staff, and participate in a 40-hour initial training program. Once being sworn in by the Judge, each volunteer is expected to maintain at least 12 hours of continuing education annually, spend 5-10 hours per month on their case, visit with the child at least 1-2 times, and be willing to make a commitment of at least three years (which is the average length of each case). Volunteers must make case time a priority in order to provide quality advocacy.
How does a CASA/GAL volunteer differ from a social service caseworker?
Social service caseworkers are employed by the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) or other contracted agencies. The CASA/GAL volunteer does not replace a social service caseworker, he/she is a third party appointee of the court. The CASA/GAL is assigned to one case at a time, giving them the time to spend learning about each child. Social service caseworkers often have caseloads 20 or more children. The CASA/GAL volunteer is assigned to one case at a time.
How does a CASA/GAL volunteer differ from a Guardian ad Litem attorney?
Attorneys are charged with representing their client’s legal interests and following the wishes of their client. The CASA/GAL is a volunteer, not a paid attorney, and their role is to ensure the best interests of the child(ren). As GAL, volunteers have the ability to introduce motions, evidence and elicit testimony through their court-appointed attorney. In addition, the CASA/GAL provides crucial background information that assists the Judge in making best interest decisions for children.
CASA/GAL volunteers come from every walk of life. They range in age from 21-85, represent various cultural backgrounds and are students, retirees, teachers, firefighters, realtors and many other diverse members of our community. They all share a commitment to improving children’s lives, a willingness to learn and an open mind towards life experiences different from their own.
How effective is the CASA Kane County program?
Nearly 100% of our volunteers’ recommendations are 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 100% of children represented by a CASA/GAL last year did not experience a recurrence of abuse and neglect.
What is the role of the National
CASA Kane County does not receive any state or federal funding and must raise its $2.5 million operating budget (including in-kind time spent by volunteers) from private donations and grants. Operating a nonprofit organization of this size requires maintaining an experienced professional staff to recruit, train, retain and case manage the 250 volunteers that are serving nearly 600 children annually in a community with over half a million in population. There are also administrative, fundraising and operating expenses involved in running an extensive nonprofit organization that must maintain the transparency, compliance, and quality that our board of director’s requires.
What is the cost to provide a CASA/GAL volunteer to one child?
It costs the organization $2,000 per child per year which covers all aspects of training, recruitment, and supervision by a professional staff. The Guardian ad Litem services CASA Kane County provides are professional services with more than 250 community volunteers, and if we did not exist, the cost to pay attorneys or professional social workers would result in the county paying millions of dollars. The cost savings of providing Guardian ad Litem services through a non-profit organization with trained volunteers is immense, and National CASA studies have found that CASA volunteers spend significantly more time with a child than a paid Guardian ad Litem.
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. Children with CASA/GAL volunteers are not faced with “falling through the cracks” of the child welfare system.” In addition to giving back to the community, you will receive a charitable tax deduction and know that your dollars are impacting a human life.
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.
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Click here to read "5 Big Questions" answered by the National CASA Association.