A CASA volunteer is a member of the community who becomes a sworn officer of the Court. A jurist (judge or referee) appoints a CASA volunteer as a special advocate to represent the best interest of an abused or neglected child in a court proceeding.
A trained CASA volunteer gathers information for the court. He or she recommends to the judge what the child needs to be safe and what is in the child’s best interest for a permanent home. A CASA volunteer advocates for a speedy decision that considers a child’s sense of time.
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. CASA volunteers are usually assigned to just one case at a time, one CASA volunteer to one case, to provide a “voice in court”. A CASA volunteer gives individual attention to a 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, and fear about the future. For children who are in out of home placements, there can be many changes in schools and homes before a decision is made on where the child should live. A CASA volunteer can be the sole source of stability and comfort to fill an enormous void in the child’s life. A CASA volunteer is a trusted, dependable adult who doesn’t go away and who gives the child hope for a better future.
Each case is different. A CASA volunteer usually spends about 10 hours doing research and conducting interviews prior to the first court appearance. More complicated cases may take longer. Once initiated into the system, volunteers work about 10 to 15 hours a month.
The roles are not the same. The CASA volunteer is independent from the social services system. The social worker or caseworker serves the family – parents and child – by providing direct services. They are obligated to provide service to and for the family. The CASA volunteer only becomes involved if requested by the Court. The CASA volunteer is usually assigned just one case at a time and is able to spend as much time as it takes to gather information about the child and the child’s family. In contrast, a social worker may have between ten and fifteen cases (or more) at any given time. It is important to note that while the roles and responsibilities may be different, the CASA program works collaboratively with the social worker.
A CASA volunteer serves at the request of the court and provides a report on the well-being of the child. 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.
CASA programs hire staff to manage the program and supervise volunteers. Program costs include: salaries, office support, computers and equipment, travel and training. CASA program staff recruits, trains and supervises volunteers to ensure quality services. National CASA has program standards that all participating CASA programs are required to meet.
CASA programs are locally supported. Wayne County CASA receives federal and state grants, foundational grants, individual donations, and corporate giving. CASA programs rely heavily on their communities to support the service.
Yes! Judges know their decisions are only as good as the information they receive. They count on CASA volunteers to be an independent voice and they know that CASA volunteers have more time to focus on specific cases. A CASA volunteer who can tell the court “I was there – this is what I observed” can be invaluable.
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 volunteer. This represents a savings to taxpayers and it also means that a child finds a permanent, safe home more quickly.