- What is a CASA volunteer?
- Who can be a CASA volunteer?
- What exactly does a CASA volunteer do?
- What does it take to be a CASA volunteer?
- How long has CASA been around?
- Who are the children being represented?
- How does a CASA volunteer get involved in a case?
- How does someone become a CASA volunteer?
- What is the need for CASA volunteers in Alaska?
What is a CASA volunteer?
A court appointed special advocate (CASA) is a community volunteer trained and supervised by professional program staff to speak up for abused and neglected children in child welfare court cases.
Who can be a CASA volunteer?
No special background or education is required to become a CASA volunteer. We encourage people from all cultures and professions, and of all ethnic and educational backgrounds. Once accepted into the program, volunteers receive all necessary training in courtroom procedures, social services, the child welfare law, and the
special needs of abused and neglected children.
- At least 21 years old
- Willing to complete necessary background checks, provide references and participate in a personal interview
- Complete 30 hours of pre-service training
- Available for court appearances, with advance notice
- Willing to commit to the CASA program until the child’s case is closed
What exactly does a CASA volunteer do?
The CASA volunteer role complements but does not duplicate the duties of other responsible persons involved in abuse or neglect cases, such as social workers and attorneys. With support and guidance provided by staff, the CASA volunteer gathers and assesses information, develops recommendations, and submits written and verbal reports which are considered by the court to aid in its decisions about the best course of action for the child. CASA volunteers have the time and commitment to thoroughly get to know the facts of the case, establish a relationship with the child, and follow through on the monitoring process until the child is reunified with the parents or placed
in another safe, permanent home. A CASA volunteer's duties include:
CASA volunteers thoroughly research the background of the case by reading all relevant records and talking to everyone involved, such as teachers and service providers. The CASA volunteer especially gets to know the child so as to determine the child’s unique needs.
CASA volunteers work with the other parties involved to ensure that the child’s case is progressing through the system and recommendations and court orders are being followed.
CASA volunteers make reports to the court and recommend what they believe is best for the child, providing the judge with information that will help the court make an informed decision about the child's future. CASA volunteers can be instrumental in assuring that a child or family receives needed services that the court has ordered -- things such as substance abuse counseling or special education testing.
During the life of a case, a CASA volunteer monitors the child's situation to make sure the child's needs are being addressed and that a permanent plan is developed and implemented. A CASA volunteer may be the only consistent adult the child knows as the case moves through the labyrinth of the child welfare system.
What does it take to be a CASA volunteer?
When you take on a case, you take on a child's future. We ask that you stay with the case until it is resolved. This may take a year or even longer. The amount of time you give to a case will vary depending on the stage of the proceedings and the complexity of the case. CASA volunteers spend an average of 10-12 hours per month on casework.
The CASA volunteer's job is to represent the best interests of the child, and that may not always be what the child wants. CASA volunteers must be willing to talk to everyone involved in a case in order to get a clear picture of the child’s life. The CASA volunteer must remain objective and base recommendations on the information that has been gathered. While CASA volunteers do establish a relationship with the child, the CASA volunteer's role is not to become a "Big Brother/Sister” to the child.
CASA volunteers sometimes run into frustrations or roadblocks in dealing with the child welfare system. It is important to remember to keep your focus on the children you are advocating for to deal with these frustrations and overcome these roadblocks. Program staff and fellow CASA volunteers can help you make it through the rough spots.
Good Communication Skills
CASA volunteers must be able to talk to a wide variety of people, from healthcare professionals to school officials to an angry parent. CASA volunteers present written reports to the court and speak in the courtroom on behalf of the child's best interests.
How long has CASA been around?
The first CASA program began in Seattle, Washington in 1976, when Judge David W. Soukup, then the Presiding Judge of King County Superior Court in Seattle, began using trained community volunteers to make sure abused and neglected children had an informed advocate in court. The Alaska CASA program began in 1987 under the auspices of the state Office of Public Advocacy (OPA). Currently Alaska CASA operates local programs in Anchorage, Bethel, Fairbanks, Juneau, the Kenai Peninsula (in partnership with Kenaitze Indian Tribe) and the MatSu Valley. The Kenaitze Indian Tribe first started a Tribal Court CASA program in 2006, and tribes around the state are looking at adding a CASA program to their courts.
Who are the children being represented?
The children and youth served by CASA volunteers range from birth through 21 years of age and come from a variety of cultural and ethnic backgrounds. They have arrived in the court system as a result of abandonment, being born drug addicted, having been battered, sexually abused, or by not having been provided with basic needs. The CASA volunteer’s preferences and unique skills are considered when assigning a case.
How does a CASA volunteer get involved in a case?
Someone concerned about the welfare of a child calls the Office of Children’s Services (OCS). OCS workers investigate the report and make a decision about the safety of the child. If a child is at risk of harm the state may ask the court for temporary custody that includes the authority to place a child in a foster home. When a child is taken into state custody Alaska law requires that the child is assigned a guardian ad litem (GAL) provided by OPA. GALs are paid professional child advocates. If available, a CASA volunteer is assigned to the case as soon as possible. The CASA volunteer teams with the assigned GAL to provide the best possible advocacy for the child.
How does someone become a CASA volunteer?
CASA volunteers complete over 30 hours of classroom training (with additional time required for homework) and at least one court observation prior to being sworn-in and assigned to a case. All CASA volunteer applicants complete a screening process which includes an information meeting, written application, personal interview, criminal and child protection checks, Social Security number verification, and personal reference checks. In addition to the initial training, CASA volunteers are required to complete 12 hours of continuing education a year. The Alaska CASA program provides all required training free of charge to the volunteer
What is the need for CASA volunteers in Alaska?
Unfortunately, Alaska has one of the highest rates of child abuse and neglect in the country. Professionals in the child welfare system often have very high caseloads. CASA volunteers are assigned just one or two cases and are able to give the cases the sustained and personal attention they need. National studies have shown that when a
CASA volunteer is assigned to a case it is resolved in a shorter period of time and that volunteers perform as well as trained attorneys. A local survey conducted in April 1999 asked professionals (judges, social workers, attorneys, foster parents) their opinion of CASA volunteers. The overwhelming response was that CASA volunteers make a real difference in their cases and that there was a definite need for more CASA volunteers. In addition, foster youth and their families often respond very positively to CASA volunteers because they are not being paid. Our highly trained and deeply committed volunteers can truly make a lasting and positive impact in a child’s life.