What is CASA?
CASA is a national volunteer movement that began more than 25 years ago, when Judge David Soukup in Seattle decided he needed to know more about the children whose lives were in his hands. His solution was to ask community volunteers to act as a “voice in court” for abused and neglected children. These Court Appointed Special AdvocatesTM (CASA) provided him with the detailed information he needed to safeguard the children’s best interests and ensure that they were placed in safe, permanent homes as quickly as possible. The program was so successful that it was copied around the nation.
The first CASA program established in Texas was Dallas CASA in 1980. During that decade, 14 CASA programs were started in Texas. In 1989, Texas CASA was formed as a result of a merger between the Texas Task Force on Permanency Planning and the Texas CASA network that was made up of the existing CASA programs in the state.
Today, the CASA movement has evolved into one of the largest volunteer organizations in the country. In Texas, there are 72 local CASA programs, with more than 8,476 CASA volunteers serving 25,947 of the 47,348 children in foster care in 2015.
Who is CASA?
CASA volunteers are people like you. They’re teachers, business people, retirees, stay-at-home moms, grandparents, college students; extraordinary people who want to make certain the voices of abused and neglected children are heard.
What do CASAs do?
CASA volunteers get to know the child and speak to everyone involved in the child’s life, including their family members, teachers, doctors, lawyers, social workers, and others. The information they gather and their recommendations help the court make informed decisions. CASA volunteers commit to a child until the case is closed and the child is in a safe, permanent home.
Judges truly value the observations and recommendations of CASA volunteers, knowing that they have the child’s best interests at heart.
- CASA volunteers help shorten the time a child spends in foster care.*
- Children with a CASA volunteer are less likely to re-enter the child welfare system once their case is closed.*
- CASA volunteers help children and their families receive the services they need.*
- CASA has been recognized by the U.S. Department of Justice as a model juvenile delinquency prevention program.
*Source: Study conducted by National CASA and U.S. Department of Justice Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Programs, 2006
Is CASA for You? Yes!!!
Do I have to be a lawyer or social worker?
NO. People from all walks of life become CASAs. After you have been accepted into the CASA program, you will receive a minimum of 30 hours of training to prepare you for your work as a CASA, and ongoing support from CASA staff.
Do I have time for this?
Most CASA volunteers work full time and find the CASA experience flexible enough to accommodate their schedules. You will go to court about 4-5 times a year and attend a few daytime meetings. The rest of a CASA volunteer’s work is done on their own time – visiting the child, reading reports and records. They also meet, email and call others involved in the case. Throughout the child’s case, volunteers typically spend an average of 15 hours a month, including travel time and phone calls.
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. CASA staff provides emotional support and guidance throughout the case and accompanies volunteers to court hearings.
What kinds of children will I be working with?
Children who have been removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect. These children could be living in an emergency shelter, a foster home, a residential treatment center, or a relative’s home. They range in age from newborn to teenager and in numbers from one child on a case to a large sibling group. Volunteers can choose an age range that they prefer to work with and also whether they’d prefer to work with a sibling group or only one child. But, our goal is always to provide a CASA to every child who needs one.
Will I be safe?
CASA volunteers are never expected or encouraged to place themselves in dangerous situations. The work of CASA is challenging, but you will always have the support of a CASA staff person.
What kinds of people serve as CASA volunteers?
Being a CASA volunteer requires no specialized degrees or legal experience. It does require special people over the age of 21 who have:
- A concern for children;
- A genuine desire to help;
- The ability to remain objective;
- The maturity to deal with emotional situations;
- The commitment to complete a 30-hour-minimum training course;
- Sensitivity to people who are different from themselves;
- Access to transportation and a flexible schedule; and
- A willingness to devote at least one year to a child’s case.
How do I know what to recommend to the judge in a case?
CASA volunteers make recommendations based on the time they spend with the child, the review of records, interviews with the caseworker, the attorney for the child, the foster parents, teachers, relatives, parents, and the CASA supervisor.
Why would the judge listen to me?
The judge appoints CASA to represent the best interests of the child and make recommendations to the court. Judges respect CASA volunteers and take their recommendations into account when making decisions.
Will my time make a difference?
Absolutely. CASA volunteers offer children a consistent helping hand to guide them through the foster care system and a strong voice advocating on their behalf. As a result, children represented by CASA are more likely to:
- receive the services and resources they and their families need;
- maintain stable placements while in foster care;
- avoid the court system once their case is dismissed.
How does a CASA volunteer differ from an attorney?
A CASA does not provide legal representation in the courtroom. A CASA takes into account what a child may want and speaks specifically to what is in the best interest of the child.
Are there any other agencies or groups that provide the same service?
No. There are other child advocacy organizations, but CASA is the only program where volunteers are appointed by the court to represent a child’s best interests. While attorneys are appointed to represent the child’s legal interests and advocate for what the child wants, CASA’s duty is to advocate for what the child needs.