What is a CASA Advocate?
A CASA advocate is a "Friend of the Court". A judge appoints an advocate to represent the best interest of an abused or neglected child in court proceedings.
What does a CASA advocate do?
A trained CASA volunteer gathers information for the court and reports observations on the child's needs and what is in the child's best interest for a safe, nurturing and permanent home. A CASA volunteer advocates for appropriate decisions to be made in a timely manner.
Why does a child need a CASA advocate?
When the court is making decisions that will affect 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, they also have other interests. The CASA is the only person in the case whose sole concern is the welfare of the child. CASA volunteers are assigned one case at a time so they can provide that child with a "voice in court." A CASA 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, of being alone and about the future. For the children who are in out-of-home placements, there can be many changes in schools and homes before a permanent placement decision is made. 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.
What is the difference between the CASA and a Social Worker?
The roles are not the same. The CASA is independent from the social services system and focuses solely on the child. The DCFS caseworker serves the entire family—parents and child—by providing direct services. DCFS caseworkers are not able to be a wholly independent voice because they are part of an agency that has already taken a position in the case by filing a petition and bringing the matter to court. A CASA is an independent voice, advocating on behalf of one particular child.
Why does a child need both a CASA advocate and an attorney?
A CASA volunteer will 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.
Why do CASA programs cost money to run when volunteers are not paid?
CASA programs hire staff to manage the program and volunteers. Staff recruit, train and supervise volunteers to ensure quality services. Program costs include: salaries, office support, supplies, computers, and related equipment, travel and training.
Does the court listen to what a CASA has to say?
Judges know their decisions are only as good as the information they receive. They rely on CASA volunteers to be independent voices and they know that CASA volunteers have more time to focus on specific cases. A CASA who can tell the court "I was there and this is what I observed" can be invaluable.
How do we know CASA advocates are effective?
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.