Who Is CASA Kane County?
CASA Kane County is a nonprofit, volunteer organization that advocates for the best interests of abused and neglected children within the Juvenile Court system. We work independently, but in collaboration with our judiciary, agencies and the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) to find permanent and safe homes for children in the foster care system. The organization recruits, trains and supervises community volunteers that are then supported by 13 professional staff and 18 board of directors.
Why is a CASA/GAL Volunteer Needed when Children have Case Workers?
Social service caseworkers are employed by DCFS or one of their other contracted agencies. The CASA/GAL volunteer does not replace a social service caseworker, he/she is a third party appointee of the court. Social service caseworkers often have caseloads of 20 or more children while each CASA is assigned to one case at a time. The CASA /GAL volunteer is often the only consistent person advocating for the minors throughout the case who also holds their history and provides a caring and supportive person that the child can trust.
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 and not a paid attorney whose sole duty is to ensure the best interests of the child(ren) are always in the forefront. As the GAL, CASA volunteers have the ability to introduce motions, evidence and elicit testimony through CASA Kane County’s court-appointed attorney.
How Do I Become a CASA/GAL Volunteer – What Are My First Steps?
Prospective volunteers must be at least 21 years of age, attend a general information meeting, interview with two Advocate Supervisors and complete an application. CASA/GAL volunteers then go through a background check, fingerprinting and undergo a thorough training and development program that consists of 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. 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 needs, and submit reports to the court.
How Much Time Does it Require Once I Have Been Accepted to become a CASA Volunteer?
Each case is different. When a case is initially assigned, a CASA may spend several hours per week researching the case history and conducting interviews. Volunteers spend anywhere from 5-15 hours each month on their cases and visit with the children at least 1-2 times a month. Some cases may continue for two years or longer and volunteers are asked to commit until a case has been closed. Because caseworker and service provider turnover is high, often the CASA/GAL volunteer is the only consistent presence in the child’s life.
What are the Qualifications and Typical CASA Volunteer?
CASA volunteers come from all walks of life, with a variety of professional, educational and ethnic backgrounds. We have volunteers who work both full- and part-time jobs while others are retired.
• Commitment: Volunteers must make case time a priority in order to provide quality advocacy.
• Objectivity: Their third-party evaluations are based on facts, evidence and testimonies.
• Communications Skills: They must have good oral and written communication skills to paint the clearest picture to the Judge, present the facts, and collaborate with all parties of the case.
How are CASA/GAL Volunteers Assigned to a Case?
After the children are removed from their homes 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 children. CASA then collects the information to best match the children with the experiences, expertise and geographic location to each CASA/GAL volunteer.
How Does the CASA/GAL Volunteer Relate to the Children They Represent?
CASA/GAL volunteers offer children trust and advocacy during complex legal proceedings. They explain to the child the events that are happening, the reason they are in court and the roles of the Judge, lawyers and social workers. CASA/GAL volunteers also encourage the children to express their own opinions and hopes, while remaining objective observers.
Are There any Other Agencies or Groups that Provide the Same Service?
No! There are other child advocacy organizations, but CASA Kane County is the only program where volunteers are appointed by the court to represent a child’s best interests.
What is the Role of the State and National Organizations?
The National and State CASA Organizations represent and serve local CASA programs. All CASA programs must be accredited through a quality assessment in order to retain their membership status. There are more than 34 programs within the State of Illinois and nearly 1,000 nationwide. We are a separate 501(c)(3) organization and all donations to the CASA Kane County program remain local.
How Effective is the CASA Program?
Nearly 100% of our volunteer’s recommendations are accepted by the Judge. Children who suffer abuse and neglect are at a high 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 system and all children who had a CASA/GAL last year did not experience a recurrence of abuse and neglect. In 2006, the U.S. Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General (OIG) conducted an audit of the National CASA Association and found the following:
• Children with a CASA volunteer are substantially less likely to spend time in long-term foster care, defined as more than 3 years in care: 13.3% for CASA cases versus 27.0% of all children in foster care.
• When a CASA volunteer was involved, both children and their parents were ordered by the courts to receive more services.
• Cases involving CASA volunteers are more likely to be “permanently closed” (i.e., the children are less likely to re-enter the child welfare system) than cases where a CASA volunteer is not involved.
Why Does CASA Kane County Need Money if the Program Consists of Unpaid Volunteers?
The organization 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 an experienced professional staff to recruit, train, retain and supervise the 250 CASA volunteers who serve nearly 600 children annually in a community of over a half million in population. There are also administrative, fundraising and operating expenses and it is required by law to remain transparent, compliant and maintain the quality program our community expects.
What is the Cost to Provide a CASA/GAL Volunteer to One Child?
It costs the organization $2,000 per child for one year which covers all aspects of training, recruitment and supervision by a professional staff. If our 250 plus Guardian ad Litem (GAL) volunteers did not exist it would cost the county millions of dollars as they would have to pay attorneys or professional social workers. The cost savings of providing Guardian ad Litem services through a non-profit organization with trained volunteers is immense.
What are the Benefits of Supporting CASA Kane County?
By helping to save a child from a life of abuse and neglect, we provide a safe 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.
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Click here to read "5 Big Questions" answered by the National CASA Association.