A trained CASA volunteer gathers information for the court and recommends, to the judge, what the child needs, The CASA volunteer also recommends what is in the child’s best interest for a safe, nurturing and permanent home. This recommendation comes in the form of a formal report that is given to the judge to aid in his/her decisions on behalf of the child. A CASA volunteer advocates for an appropriate decision that is made in a timely manner.
When the court is making decisions that will impact a child’s future, the child needs and deserves a spokesperson- an objective adult to provide independent information about the best interests of the child. While other parties in the case are concerned about the child, those parties also have other interests. The CASA volunteer is the only person in the case whose sole concern is the best interest of the child. Through CASA, every child gets a “voice” in court. A CASA volunteer gives individual attention to each case.
An abused or neglected child has come from a world of chaos and instability. For the child, there is fear. Fear of being hurt; fear of being alone and fear about the future. For the children who are in out-of-home placements, there can be many changes in schools and homes before a decision is made in regard to where the child should be placed. A CASA volunteer can be the sole source of stability in the child’s life. A CASA is a trusted, dependable adult who doesn’t go away and who gives the child hope for a better future. This, then, is an opportunity to benefit our most vulnerable children, those who have been abused and neglected.
Social workers generally are employed by state governments and sometimes work on as many as 60 to 90 cases at a time; they are frequently unable to conduct a comprehensive investigation of each case. The CASA volunteer has more time and a smaller caseload (average of 1-2 cases) to investigate a case. The CASA volunteer does not replace a social worker on a case; they are an independent appointee of the court. The CASA volunteer thoroughly examines a child’s case, knows about various community resources, and makes recommendations to the court independent of state agency restrictions.
A CASA volunteer is able to spend as much time as is necessary to gather information about the child and the child’s familial system. A CASA serves at the request of a judge and provides a report on the best placement for a child. If a court had to pay an attorney to do this job, it would be too costly. A child’s attorney provides legal representation. The CASA volunteer and the child’s attorney can work as a team to represent the best interest of the child.
CASA programs hire staff to manage the program and supervise volunteers. Program costs include: salaries, office support, computers and equipment, travel and training. CASA program staff members recruit, train and supervise volunteers to ensure quality services. The National CASA Association has program standards that all CASA programs are required to meet.
Judges know their decisions are only as good as the information they receive. They count on CASA volunteers to be an independent voice and they know that CASA volunteers have more time to focus on specific cases. A CASA who can tell the court “I was there- this is what I observed” is invaluable.
Preliminary findings show that children who have been assigned CASA volunteers tend to spend less time in court and less time in the foster care system than those who do not have CASA representation. Judges have observed that CASA advocated children have better chances of finding permanent homes.
Studies have shown CASA volunteers to be effective in reducing court costs, reducing stays in foster care and even in reducing rates of delinquency. A study conducted by the National CASA Association showed that children with a CASA volunteer spent approximately one year less in care than a child without a CASA. This represents a savings to taxpayers and it also means that a child finds a permanent and safe home more quickly.
A Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer is a trained citizen who is appointed 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.
To prepare a court 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, caseworker reports, and other documents.
The CASA volunteer does not provide legal representation in the courtroom−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 speak for the child’s best interests.
CASA volunteers come from all walks of life and possess variety of professional, educational and ethnic backgrounds. There are more than 70,000 CASA volunteers nationally. Local programs vary in number of volunteers they utilize. Aside from their CASA volunteer work, 64 percent are employed in full- or part-time jobs; the majority tend to be professionals with 58% college or university graduates. The majority (82%) of the volunteers nationwide are women.
CASA volunteers offer children trust and advocacy during complex legal proceedings. They help explain to the child the events happening involving the case, reasons they are in court and the roles of the judge, lawyers and case workers. While remaining objective observers, CASA volunteers also encourage the child to express his or her own opinion and hopes about the case.
The number varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but an average caseload is one to two.
There are over 900 CASA programs in every state across the country, as well as Washington DC and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
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, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention of the U.S. Department of Justice.
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.
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 hours a month.
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.
At the local level, CASA programs are generally funded through a state’s Department of Justice. 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.