CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocate. CASA volunteers are trained community citizens who advocate for children involved in the Juvenile Abuse and Neglect court system.
A trained CASA volunteer gathers information for the court, then recommends to the judge what is in the child’s best interests. The judge reads the CASA’s reports as well as the agency reports, taking all reports into consideration when making a decision concerning the child. The CASA’s goal is to be the consistent adult in their lives until permanency can be achieved.
Upon completing a CASA Volunteer Application and submitting to a background check, applicants will undergo an initial interview, training, and then will be sworn in as officers of the court. This gives them the legal authority to conduct research on the child’s situation and submit reports to the court.
Training is approximately 35 hours. CASA volunteers are trained on issues of cultural awareness, child development, types of abuse, report writing, court processes, and effective advocacy techniques. Parts of the training include a special session often taught by court personnel the CASA will be working with as well as an opportunity to observe a court case. This further reinforces classroom learning. Volunteers gain exposure to the many issues confronting the judge in court proceedings while seeing firsthand the roles of the different parties in a case, including the role they will play once assigned to their own case. Winnebago County CASA offers several opportunities for training and ongoing education throughout the year.
The number of children involved varies. Sometimes more than one CASA is appointed to serve larger families. A CASA may advocate for up to four children in one family. If desired, CASA’s can work with a partner to best cover the number of children in larger families. Children’s ages range from newborns to 19-year-olds, except in certain circumstances where the court may extend the age to 21.
A CASA is able to talk to the child and anyone involved in the child’s life, such as parents, foster parents, teachers, school counselors, agency caseworkers, doctors, and therapists. The CASA will not be able to discuss the case with those not directly involved; this concept of confidentiality in Juvenile Court will be explained fully during training.
CASAs should see the child at least once a month but may need additional visits depending on the needs of the child. In order to be an effective CASA, it is important to build rapport with the child(ren) we are working with.
CASAs primarily visit the home where the child resides. Sometimes a CASA is appointed on intact family cases where the child still resides in the home. If children are removed from the home we still prioritize keeping in close communication with the parent’s/caregiver’s on the case, and when the child is preparing to return home we will also prioritize visiting the parent’s/caregiver’s home. If an advocate has concerns visiting the home, the CASA office can help with assisting to make proper arrangements for meeting in a neutral location or in conjunction with their case manager.
*In the time of Covid-19 we do encourage and help facilitate virtual meetings.
Permanency is the final goal and outcome of a case. If return home cannot be achieved, then it may culminate in guardianship, an adoption, independence for the minor, and in rare cases permanent foster placement.
Court dates are usually set every 6 months during the permanency review stage but can occur more often depending on the circumstances of the case at a given time. On average a CASA may attend court 5 times a year. The next court date is usually set while the CASA is in court at a hearing. Therefore the CASA will know months, or at least weeks, in advance of the date they will have to return to court. The only exception to this is when an emergency hearing is scheduled.
If a CASA cannot attend court, someone from the CASA office will attend for them. However, a CASA is strongly encouraged to attend court if possible because the CASA knows the most about the case. If the CASA cannot attend, the office staff will ask if there is anything special the CASA wants to be addressed during the court proceeding.
CASAs prepare a court report that thoroughly provides an update to what the child’s life has been like since the last court date, how the case is progressing toward the goal of the court, and any notable concerns and observations. This report will be given directly to the Judge to review prior to court.CASAs also have an attorney representing them during court sessions. Our concerns are brought to their attention to and they will speak on our behalf. CASA will only speak in open court if directly asked by the Judge. Often, all parties outside of the Judge get a chance to confer and discuss the issues in the case in hopes of reaching an agreement of what needs to happen on the case and then brings this back to the judge for direction. This conference is where the CASA talks freely and openly with all other parties to advocate for the child. Only our advocates will have needed pertinent information and through their attendance are instrumental to the outcome of a child’s life.
Judges know their decisions are only as good as the information they receive. They listen to CASAs and count on CASAs to be independent voices. They also 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.
No, CASAs are all volunteers.
Yes, many CASAs have full-time jobs. A CASA will know ahead of time when their case comes into court so that arrangements can be made to attend. Visits can be scheduled by the CASA so that they do not have to miss work. Also, if the CASA’s work schedule is an issue, a CASA can work with a partner.
No, CASAs come from all walks of life. They are community citizens like you who go through the CASA training. As long as an individual is 21 years old, has a high school diploma or GED, and is able to pass a background check, that person can become a CASA.
The judge in Juvenile Abuse and Neglect Court assigns cases to the CASA program. Then a CASA is assigned to the case by the Advocate Facilitator. Once assigned to a case, the CASA is then able to read the file on the case. A CASA can work alone or, if preferred, with a partner.
On average, the cases last two years, which is why a two-year commitment is required. Some cases last for only a few months, while others may last longer. As the one consistent individual in the child’s life, we strive to be committed to that child until the case closes.
The time spent on a case is about 2-3 hours a week. On average our advocates log about 10 to 12 hours per month. These hours depend on the variety of issues that may come into the case at any given time.
No, the CASA is not permitted to drive children or take them shopping, on trips, or to lunch, nor is the CASA allowed to buy presents for the children. The CASA program receives physical donations throughout the year that may be gifted to a child. However, personal gifts purchased by the CASA are prohibited. By advocating as a CASA, a person is given a tremendous opportunity to impact the life of a child.
When the court is making decisions that will affect a child’s future, the child needs and deserves a spokesperson — an objective adult who can 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 mandates or interests. The CASA is the only person in the case whose sole concern is the best interest of the child. CASA volunteers are usually assigned one case at a time. However, some CASA’s are willing to advocate for more children such as when whole families are brought into the system. 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 children who are removed from their homes, there can be many changes in schools and in foster or relative home placements before a decision is made about where the child should be placed permanently. A CASA volunteer can be the sole source of stability and the one constant 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. Standing up for a child in court is an opportunity to change the life of the most vulnerable children in our community; those who have been abused and neglected.
Apply to become a CASA here.
Yes! If you feel moved to support CASA’s mission, you can donate, share or message on social media, or attend one of our fundraising events. Contact us today to help change a child’s story.