THE CASA VOLUNTEER
A Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer is a trained citizen who is appointed by a judge to represent the best interests of children who are brought before the court due to issues of abuse and neglect.
Can anyone volunteer to be a CASA? – CASA volunteers are ordinary citizens who come from all walks of life, with a variety of professional, educational and ethnic backgrounds. No special or legal background is required; however, volunteers are screened closely for objectivity, competence and commitment. They are also subjected to an extensive background check.
What training does a CASA volunteer receive? – All volunteers undergo a thorough training course conducted by the local CASA program. Training requirements vary from program to program, but National guidelines are set at 30-40 hours. Volunteers learn about courtroom procedure from the principals in the system – judges, lawyers, social workers, court personnel and experienced volunteers. They also learn effective advocacy techniques and are educated on specific topics such as child sexual abuse, drug addiction and domestic violence. Volunteers are also required to attend 12 hours of in-service training per year.
How are CASA volunteers appointed? – The judge is the only one who can appoint a CASA to a case.
What is the CASA volunteer’s viewpoint? – A CASA volunteer serves as an advocate for the child and works strictly from the viewpoint of the child’s best interest. She/he seeks to reduce the negative impact of the court experience on the child and strives to be thorough, conscientious, fair and objective. The CASA may not always agree with the recommendations of others involved with the case (lawyers, social workers, etc…). If this occurs, the volunteer is obligated to stay focused on the child’s best interest and not be swayed by others.
What are the roles of the CASA volunteer? – (1.) Fact-Finder: the volunteer will gather facts by researching the background of the case, reviewing any relevant documents and records and interviewing any individual who may have some relevant information; (2) Advocate: the volunteer notifies the court of all relevant facts by presenting the judge with a written report, makes recommendations and attends all hearings in an effort to protect the child’s best interest; (3) Facilitator: the volunteer sometimes facilitates agreements between the parties and works for peaceful solutions; (4) Monitor: the volunteer monitors compliance with court orders and reports on the child’s progress.
How long does the CASA volunteer remain involved with a case? – Ideally, the volunteer will remain involved until the case is resolved. Other court principals often rotate cases and many times the CASA is the only constant figure in the proceedings who can provide continuity for the child.
How much time is spent on each case? – Each case varies, but it isn’t unusual for a CASA to hold a full-time job and still find time to be a volunteer.
How does a CASA volunteer differ from a social worker? – A CASA volunteers handles a much lighter caseload (usually only 1-3 cases) which allows them to have more time to get to know “their kids”.
How does the role of a CASA volunteer differ from an attorney? – The volunteer does not provide legal representation in the courtroom nor does he/she offer legal advice to any party.
- Must be 21 years of age.
- Must have a telephone in the home.
- Must not abuse drugs or alcohol.
- Must be willing to undergo close screening requirements, which include a criminal background check.
- Must be willing to commit the time and effort to conducting a thorough, independent investigation of an assigned case, attending and participating in court hearings, and remaining actively involved in the case until its conclusion.
- Must be willing to commit no less than one year.
- Interest in children, their rights, and special needs.
- Ability to work with families in a positive, sensitive, non-judgmental manner.
- Ability to work with a child, family members, and professionals using tact, concern, and basic human relations skills.
- Ability to keep all information confidential.
- Ability to communicate effectively both orally and in writing.
- Ability to respect and relate to people of all backgrounds in a variety of settings.
- Ability to transport oneself to a variety of locations.
- Ability to deal with hostility, anger, and other negative emotions.
- Ability to maintain objectivity.
- Ability to gather and record factual information.
- A basic understanding of child development.
- A basic understanding of family relationships.
VOLUNTEER JOB DESCRIPTION
The volunteer is approved through a screening process that includes a fingerprint background check and must undergo extensive training before being sworn-in by the judge and assigned a case. The volunteer is accountable to the volunteer coordinator or program director who will supervise and support the case work. The volunteer is responsible for the following duties:
- Complete an intensive independent investigation that will provide, first hand, a clear understanding of the child’s situation and needs.
Interview the parents and any other parties who may have relevant. information regarding the child’s situation.
- Have regular in-person contact with the child at least once every 30 days.
- Talk with and listen to the child.
- Review all appropriate records and reports.
- Observe the child and significant others.
- Maintain complete records about the case, including appointments interviews, and information gathered about the child and the child’s life circumstances.
- Report findings to the court.
- Provide the court with a signed written report containing factual information and recommendations as to the child’s best interests.
- Submit all written reports to the court in a timely manner.
- Appear at all court hearings and testify when necessary.
- Inform the court promptly of any important developments in the case.
- Ensure representation of the child’s best interests.
- Identify and advocate for the child’s best interests.
- Determine if there is a permanent plan in place for the child.
- Participate in any case conferences.
- Attend all court proceedings to see that all relevant facts are presented.
- Make recommendations for specific appropriate services.
- Facilitate action from community agencies involved with the child to ensure the child’s needs are met.
- Confer with and apprise the GAL of the child’s status and any changes or assistance which may be needed, requested, or recommended.
- Act as a facilitator among the parties in order to seek cooperative solutions.
- Monitor the implementation of service plans and court orders as designated by the court.
- Return case files to the CASA office after the case is closed.
- Attend training arranged by the program staff.
- Attend and complete 30-40 hours of pre-service training.
- Accumulate at least 12 hours of in-service training per year.
- Consult regularly with the CASA staff concerning assigned cases.
- Discuss preliminary findings.
- Review progress.
- Discuss recommendations prior to submitting them to the court.
- Participate in annual evaluations of your performance.
- Be prepared to commit yourself to the program for at least one year. Volunteers are expected to be available for case assignment upon request unless:
- You already have an open/active case and do not wish to take on more than one case at a time.
- A serious conflict in values exists between you and an issue relative to the case
- You have a preplanned vacation or personnel commitment.
- You cannot participate due to illness.
- You request a temporary respite from case assignment.
- Volunteers will not do the following:
- Act as a big brother/sister, foster parent, counselor or “guardian Angel”.
- Take the child home.
- Give legal advice.
- Give therapeutic counseling.
- Transport the child or any family member.
- Make placement arrangements.
- Give money or gifts to the child or any family member.
- Postpone notifying the court and DHR whenever there is an indication that a child needs protection.
- Ever forget that he/she is the “eyes and ears” – and perhaps the heart – of the court.
After the successful completion of two years of service or five cases, the experienced volunteers may be asked to act as mentors to new volunteers, guiding them through the investigative and court processes.