What is a CASA Volunteer?
A Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer is a trained citizen who is appointed by a judge to speak for the best interests of a child who has been adjudicated as abused, neglected and/or dependent by the juvenile court system. The CASA concept was developed to ensure that judges hearing such abuse and neglect cases receive facts and information necessary to make informed decisions regarding the long-term welfare of each child. In jurisdictions that have adopted a CASA program, a juvenile court judge appoints a CASA volunteer to the child’s case and the volunteer becomes a part of the judicial proceedings, working alongside attorneys and social workers in accordance with procedures established by that jurisdiction. Unlike the attorneys and social workers, however, the CASA volunteer acts exclusively as the eyes and ears of the judge in speaking for the child’s best interest.
What is the Role of a CASA Volunteer?
Here in DuPage County, advocates are typically assigned to one family case at a time to represent a child or sibling group. Advocates are responsible for visiting the child(ren) in their placements on a monthly basis. Advocates will also review agency reports, court documents and other relevant records as well as talk to the child, foster parents, case workers and others involved in the child's case. Utilizing the information captured, the advocate then writes a report which is submitted to the Court. The judge uses the report to help her or him make decisions about the case, including the child's placement and treatment needs. The advocate will attend court on the scheduled court dates and may also attend other meetings connected to the child and/or case.
Who can be a CASA?
Advocates are ordinary citizens from all walks of life; no special or legal background is required. Rather, advocate volunteers are screened closely for their maturity, objectivity, communication skills, and commitment. Advocates must be at least 21 years of age, able to provide three references and pass DCFS and criminal background checks, including fingerprinting. To be an advocate, you also must be able to keep information confidential, able to work within established court and agency guidelines, possess good listening, interviewing and observation skills, and be able to prepare clear and concise written reports.
How Much Time is Involved Being a CASA?
Initially, you must be able to complete approximately 30 hours of training. You must complete 12 hours of continuing education credits (CEC) annually thereafter. These CEC can easily be obtained in numerous ways throughout the year. Advocates are asked to make a 24-month commitment to the program but staying with the case until it closes is ideal. Regarding the casework, a CASA volunteer’s time varies from case to case, week to week, month to month. No specific number of hours is requested; time is spent based upon the needs of the case. Visits to the children are based upon the schedules of the volunteer and families; court hearings and other meetings are set by the Court or others. In general, our Advocates spend up to 15 hours per month working on their case, with the average range being 3-6 hours.
How Does a CASA Benefit the Child?
There are many child advocacy programs, but CASA is the only program where volunteers are appointed by the Juvenile Court to represent a child’s best interest. Many times the CASA is the only constant in the child's life during this traumatic time; the attorneys, caseworkers and even the judge may change. The CASA volunteer only has one case to focus on; other principals involved may have dozens of cases. CASA brings an “ordinary person, common sense” perspective to the case; others principals have institutional constraints. Studies have shown that when a child has a CASA, that child is more likely to receive services. But most importantly, simply by providing additional information that the Court would not otherwise receive, the CASA has made a difference in the life of the child.
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