A Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer is a trained community member who is appointed by a judge to represent the best interests of abused and neglected children in court.
An attorney is charged with representing their client's legal interests and with following the wishes of their client. CASA is appointed as the child's Guardian ad Litem (GAL) and is responsible for making recommendations about what things would be best for the child. The CASA volunteer will write and file reports with the court. The CASA volunteer provides crucial background information that assists the court in decision making.
Children who are victims of abuse and neglect who have become wards of the court are assigned CASA volunteers. A CASA may be requested by any party in the case. A Judge will assign CASA to the case. CASA?s are only assigned to abuse and neglect cases.
CASA volunteer's complete a total of 30 hours pre-service training which consists of 16 hours of class time, and 14 hours of homework and independent study. Preliminary training covers a wide range of topics such as cultural diversity, working with children and families, interviewing, writing court reports and much more. After training is completed, a new volunteer will be assigned a mentor for their first case. Additionally, CASA volunteers are required annually to have 12 hours of continuing education training.
After their initial training, a CASA will spend about 8-10 hours per month on a case. CASA volunteers commit to stay on a case until it is resolved, typically about 12-18 months.
Yes, the attorney ad litem (AAL) does advocate on behalf of the child in court, but has little or no contact with the child outside of the courtroom. Therefore, he or she is yet another stranger in that child's life. The AAL's role is to look out for the child's legal rights.
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 through cases, the CASA is a consistent figure in the proceedings and provides continuity for a child. Typical cases last 12 - 18 months.
CASAs come from all walks of life and possess a variety of professional, educational and ethnic backgrounds. There are more than 70,000 CASAs nationally. Local programs vary in number of volunteers they utilize. Aside from their CASA work, 64 percent are employed in full- or part-time jobs; the majority tend to be professionals with 58% being college or university graduates. The majority (82%) of the advocates nationwide are women. CASA programs have a huge need for more men to volunteer. Many of the kids in care are young boys who desperately need a male role model.
Prospective volunteers must be at least 21 years of age, and undergo criminal and Child Protective Services background checks. Applicants are required to complete a volunteer application and a 30 hour training class (16 hr. class and 14 hr. independent study). Volunteers should have effective oral and written communication skills.
A CASA volunteer provides a judge with carefully researched background of the child to help the court make a sound decision about that child's future. The CASA volunteer must determine if it is in a child's best interest to return to his or her parents or guardians, be placed in foster care, be placed with other relatives, or be freed for permanent adoption.
There are many professionals who are involved in the lives of victimized children. Unfortunately, their role is sometimes limited by time constraints. An overburdened social service system makes frequent visits difficult. Social service workers are required to see their clients once every four to six weeks. By law, they must advocate on behalf of the parents' rights as well as the child's and endeavor to reunify the family.
CASA volunteers offer the child trust and advocacy during complex legal proceedings. With the sometimes frequent changes in people and placement, the CASA may be the only constant in the child's life. CASA volunteers encourage the child to express his or her own opinions, while remaining objective.
To prepare a 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 and caseworker reports; and other documents.
Typically each CASA carries one case at a time, allowing them to focus on the particular needs of one child or sibling group.