What does CASA stand for?
CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocate.
How long is training to become an advocate and what does it include?
Training is approximately 35 hours and usually occurs two to three days per week, with each session lasting 3 hours. The training program covers ten classes including an Orientation, and a minimum of two hours of courtroom observation. Volunteers are taught about: the court process from local judges and attorneys; the Department of Children and Family Services and other social service providers; and topics including physical and sexual abuse and domestic violence are addressed. Training also covers issues of cultural awareness, child development, report writing and effective advocacy techniques. Training is held twice a year – once in the spring and once in the fall.
What, generally, do advocates do?
A trained CASA volunteer gathers information for the court. He or she then recommends to the judge what the child needs to be safe and what is in the child’s best interests. The Judge reads the CASA reports as well as the agency reports, taking all reports into consideration when making a decision concerning the child. A CASA’s goal is to find a safe, permanent home for every child he/she represents.
How many children would are included in a family case and what are the ages of the children?
The number of children involved varies. However, if there are a large number of children in a family, a CASA would be asked to consider working with a partner. The ages range from infants to 18 year olds, except in certain circumstances where the Court may extend the age to 21. When a person becomes a CASA, he/she will be asked about a preference regarding the age of the children he/she wishes to work with, and this will be taken into consideration when a family is assigned to the CASA.
Who do advocates talk to?
A CASA is able to talk to the children and anyone involved in the children’s lives such as parents, foster parents, teachers, school counselors, agency caseworkers, doctors, and therapists. However, a 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.
How often do advocates meet with the child?
CASAs should see the child at least once a month, but are encouraged to see the child more often in some situations, such as in the situation of a child who is very young, or if there is a very difficult problem occurring for the child at the time.
Do advocates visit the parents’ home or the foster home?
Yes, a CASA will have to visit the home where the children are placed. However, if the children are not placed with their parents, the CASA will also be asked to visit the parents’ home if there is any possibility of the children being returned home. If a home is not in a safe neighborhood, arrangements can be made to visit the family with another person (caseworker, etc.), or if there are concerns about physically abusive parents or if there are domestic violence situations, a CASA would see the parent(s) in a neutral setting – in a public place.
How often do advocates come to Court?
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. 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 he/she will have to return to court. The only exception to this is when an emergency hearing is scheduled.
What if an advocate is away and cannot come to Court?
If a CASA cannot attend Court, someone from the CASA office will attend for him/her. However, a CASA is strongly encouraged to attend Court if possible because the CASA knows the most about his/her 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.
How much do advocates participate in Court?
It depends on each case. The Judge places a great deal of emphasis and importance on the information CASA presents. So, it’s very important that a CASA speak up for his/her child (or children). A CASA will have an attorney who represents him/her in Court. However, if the CASA feels that his/her point is not being made, the CASA may address the Court directly.
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 listen to CASA and count on CASA volunteers to be an independent voice; they also 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” can be invaluable.
Is this a paid position?
NO, CASAs are all volunteers.
Can advocates do this if they are working?
Yes, many CASAs have full time jobs. As previously noted, a CASA will know ahead of time when his/her case comes into court so arrangements can be made to attend. Visits can be scheduled by the CASA so he/she does not have to miss work. Also, if the CASA’s work schedule is an issue, a CASA can work with a partner.
Do advocates need experience in child welfare?
No, CASAs come from all walks of life. As long as the CASA is 21 years old, has a high school diploma or GED, is willing to attend the training sessions, and commits to a two-year term, a person can become a CASA.
What is the procedure for assigning cases?
The Judge in abuse and neglect court assigns the cases to the CASA program, and then the director of the program will decide who should have the case. When a CASA is assigned a case, he/she is able to read the files on the case and decide if he/she wants to take the case. As noted above, a CASA also can work on the case alone, or if preferred, with a partner.
How long does the case last?
On average, the cases last two years, which is why a two-year commitment is required. However, in some situations the cases can last for only a few months, but they can also continue for three or even more years.
How many hours per week do advocates need to spend on the case?
The time spent on a case is an average of 10 to 12 hours per month. However, depending on the variety of issues that may come into the case at any given time, a CASA may spend more or less hours per month.
Are advocates able to take (drive) the children places (for lunch, shopping)?
NO! The CASA is not permitted to take (drive) children shopping, on trips, or to lunch, nor is the CASA allowed to buy presents for the children. If a person feels this is an important part of his desire to work with children, then those persons are encouraged to check on the local Big Sister/Big Brother Program, or a similar program, which may be a better fit for that person. On the other hand, by advocating for CASA children, a person is provided with a tremendous opportunity to impact the life of a child.
Why does a child need a CASA volunteer?
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 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 assigned one case at a time — one CASA per family to provide each child in that family 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; fear of being alone; fear about the future. For the children who are removed from their home, there can be many changes in schools and in foster or relative home placements before a decision is made in regard to 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. This, then, is an opportunity to benefit our most vulnerable children, those who have been abused and neglected.