What does a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) do?
A CASA volunteer fulfills many roles, acting as investigator, representative, case monitor, as a mediator and as a broker of information and resources. CASA volunteers provide a number of necessary services that local and state governments would otherwise have to pay for, such as doing research on the child’s situation in alternative care, and working with parents to ensure completion of their court-ordered service plan.
Investigate, Monitor, and Recommend
The CASA volunteer gathers information about a child’s situation while in alternative care and monitors the placement situation to ensure that the child’s needs are being met. Volunteers make regular visits to the child in his/her placement; build supportive relationships with the child to best understand their specific needs; and ensure that the child receives necessary medical, psychological, educational and other services. The volunteer may also attend regular court hearings and other meetings, and make recommendations to the court on the child’s behalf regarding care, placement, and other issues.
Serve as Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) for the child
GALs are authorized by Texas law to conduct independent investigations in order to determine the best interests of the child or children. GALs have access to school, medical and other confidential records; can receive all court and legal documents; and can participate in all meetings, staffings and court proceedings related to the case.
Provide a consistent presence for the child during an otherwise tumultuous time
While CPS Caseworkers and others involved in a case can turnover frequently, CASA aims to be a consistent presence in the child’s life. CASA Volunteers regularly visit with the child and, most importantly, advocate on behalf of their best interests. All CASA Volunteers work closely with a staff Casework Supervisor who guides every aspect of casework to ensure that the volunteer is properly supported in their role, and that the child receives the best possible services.
What kinds of people serve as CASA advocates?
Our volunteers represent nearly every age group, ethnicity, profession, educational background and lifestyle there is. They are teachers, business professionals, healthcare workers, college students, stay at home moms, and retired persons. They are anywhere from 21 to over 70 years of age. Some have a high school education, while others have Ph.D.s and law degrees. In short, there is no typical CASA volunteer. However, the one thing all of our volunteers have in common is a genuine interest in the well being of the children we serve. A good advocate can communicate well verbally and in writing, is persistent and committed, and understands the significance and responsibility associated with their role as a CASA. For an official list of requirements for our volunteer advocates, click here.
Do I have time for this?
A large percentage of our CASA volunteers (52%) work full time and find the CASA experience flexible enough to accommodate their schedules. Our volunteers spend, on average, between 1-2 hours per week during the life of a case. CASA volunteers do go to court several times a year, and occasionally attend meetings that take place during the workday; however, the majority of these meetings are set with plenty of advance notice. Many CASA volunteer duties – such as attending visits with the child, reading reports and records, and sending e-mails or placing calls to others involved in the case – can be done outside of regular work hours and on the volunteer’s own time.
Will I be safe?
The safety of CASA volunteer advocates is one of our top priorities. To this end, each volunteer is assigned a staff Casework Supervisor who will serve as a source of support throughout the life of their case, and through the duration of their time at CASA. We never expect or encourage our volunteer advocates to participating in any activity that causes them to feel unsafe.
Can I handle this emotionally?
CASA volunteers are assigned to a case after the alleged child abuse or neglect has occurred and the child is placed in foster care. The CASA’s focus is on determining the child’s current and future needs. There is no doubt that working a case can be difficult at times, both emotionally and otherwise. To ensure that volunteer advocates receive the support they need, each volunteer is paired with a CASA staff Casework Supervisor who works closely alongside the volunteer to provide guidance throughout the case.
How does CASA differ from other organizations in Johnson County that provide similar services?
There are several other organizations in the Johnson County community that work with abused and neglected children, and CASA regularly partners with these organizations to ensure the best possible level of services. One of these organizations includes:
Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) investigates reports of child abuse and neglect. If it is determined that a child is in imminent danger, DFPS will remove him/her from their home and place them in foster/alternative care.
Despite the fact that several organizations provide assistance of some sort to child victims of abuse and neglect, CASA is the only organization that is appointed by the court to provide advocacy services for children. CASA does not play a role in, or investigate the circumstances of, the child’s removal from his or her home, and does not provide counseling or other therapeutic services. Our agency has only one program: court advocacy for the best interests of the child or children in a civil abuse or neglect case.
Will I really make a difference?
In a word, YES. CASA volunteers offer children a consistent helping hand to guide them through the foster care system and provide a strong voice to advocate on their behalf.
A growing number of studies have found that, as compared to children who do not have a CASA volunteer assigned to their case, children who have a CASA:
Receive a greater number of court-ordered services (Caliber 2004; Duquette & Ramsey 1986; Condelli 1988; Litzefelner 2000; Poertner & Press 1990; Siegel, et al. 2001);
Are more likely to be adopted (Abramson 1991; Poertner & Press 1990; Profilet 1999; Siegel et al. 2001);
Have a fewer number of placements (i.e. home changes) while in foster care (Calkins & Millar 1999; Litzefelner 2000);
Are half as likely to re-enter the child welfare system after their case is closed (Poertner & Press 1990; Abramson 1991; Powell & Speshock 1996).
By volunteering with CASA, you can be a part of this important work – YOU can truly make a lifelong difference for a child.
How do I get started?