How did the CASA movement begin?
In 1997, a Seattle juvenile court judge concerned about making drastic decisions with insufficient information conceived of the idea of citizen volunteers to speak up for the best interests of abused and neglected children in the courtroom. From that first program has grown a network of more than 900 CASA programs that are recruiting, training and supporting volunteers in 49 states and the District of Columbia.
What is a Court Appointed Special Advocate or CASA?
A Court Appointed Special Advocate is a trained community volunteer. Each volunteer is an ordinary person who does extraordinary work for children. They are independent advocates appointed by a juvenile judge to speak for an abused or neglected child’s best interests. They come from all walks of life.
What does a CASA volunteer do?
Each CASA investigates all aspects of the case and provides independent factual information and recommendations to the court. The volunteer talks to everyone involved in the case and reviews all records to get a complete picture of the case.
What kind of training do CASA volunteers have?
Volunteers receive at least 30 hours of training initially as well as an additional 12 hours of yearly in-service training. Topics covered include: roles and responsibilities of the CASA volunteer, the juvenile court process, child abuse and neglect, Massachusetts and federal law, confidentiality and record keeping, child development, permanency planning, community agencies and resources, communication and information gathering, advocacy and cultural competence.
Are volunteers screened?
Yes. Volunteers are screened closely for objectivity, competence and commitment. Each volunteer must submit a written application, have reference checks, a criminal background check and an interview.
Do volunteers have to maintain confidentiality?
Yes. Confidentiality is in the law, is part of our national and state standards for volunteers and is discussed extensively in training.
How many cases can a volunteer carry?
No more than one, so that time can be devoted to intense focus on one case at a time.
Does CASA help children?
Yes, according to a number of research studies. Cases assigned to CASA volunteers have a higher rate of receiving permanent placements. Having a CASA volunteer reduces the length of time children spend in out-of-home care, reduces the number of changes in placement and increases the number of children who return home.
Can a CASA volunteer access confidential information?
Yes, upon presentation of an order of appointment, a court-appointed special advocate shall be provided access to all records relevant to the juvenile’s case, including, but not limited to, school records, medical records, juvenile court records and Department of Children and Families records to the extent permitted by law.
What does the CASA volunteer tell the judge?
The CASA volunteer submits a court report and may also testify. The report will include information on who was interviewed and what documents were reviewed, what facts the CASA volunteer learned, what their concerns are and recommendations that are in the child’s best interest.
How long does a CASA volunteer remain involved in a case?
CASAs commit to staying on a case with the child/ren until the case is closed. One of the primary benefits of the CASA program is that, unlike other people who rotate in and out of a child’s life, the CASA volunteer is a consistent figure who follows the child wherever they are placed.
What is the time commitment?
Once a CASA completes the 30-hour training program, he or she will spend from 10 to 15 hours on a case per month. The required time varies with the circumstances of the case as well as the degree of involvement of the CASA.
Is CASA a National program?
Yes, CASA has just under 1,000 programs nationally and five currently in Massachusetts. All programs adhere to rigorous guidelines that are set by National CASA.
Is CASA supported by lawyers and judges?
Yes, Juvenile Court judges implement the CASA program in their courtrooms and appoint CASA volunteers. CASA has been endorsed by the American Bar Association, the National Bar Association, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention of the U.S. Department of Justice.