CASA Volunteers are everyday people who care about kids. They come from all backgrounds. Many work full-time and volunteer. Some are students. Often they are retirees who want to take a caring and active role on behalf of children.
The Volunteer Advocate provides the presiding judge with facts and a considered assessment of the child’s care and life situation in order to support the court making a sound and informed decision about the child’s future. Each home placement case is as unique as the child or children involved. The CASA must determine if it is in the child’s best interest to stay with his or her parents or guardians, be placed in foster care, or be considered for permanent adoption.
The CASA actively monitors and assesses the child’s actual circumstances: home setting, parental or care giver competencies, social agency actions and responses, school performance, the child’s health and behavior and their feelings about their own situation. This involves visits and interviews with key participants in the child’s life. The advocate has to draw out relevant information without being judgmental or critical – objectivity and tact are essential to keeping communications open. The Volunteer needs to take this information, assess it fairly and assemble it into a coherent picture and written recommendation.
Generally, Volunteer Advocates spend about 10 to 15 hours per month working a particular case. Most Advocates handle one case at a time, however some may have two cases at the same time. The CASA needs to have personal transportation in order to perform their visits. Case duration on the average is about 12 months.
When you take on a case you take on a child’s future. Changing Advocates midstream is obviously undesirable. Generally we look for a commitment of at least a year. Sometimes, however, circumstances mandate changing Advocates.
The CASA’s role is to represent the best interests of the child. This may not always mean what the child wants. Advocates must be able to talk to everyone involved in a case and remain objective. While they will develop a relationship with the child, the Volunteer’s role is not to become a Big Brother or Sister, or a surrogate parent.
CASAs must be able to talk with a wide variety of people. Volunteers will be asked to make reports for the court, occasionally testify in proceedings and when needed speak up on behalf of the child’s best interests.
CASAs receive in-depth training in these areas: court process, child development, abuse and neglect, cultural awareness, HIV and other public health topics, community social service resources, interviewing techniques, and advocacy. During training you will hear from experienced Volunteer Advocates and may observe court proceedings. Pre-certification training takes about 30 hours in 5 or 6 evening sessions over as many weeks. There is also a 12-hour continuing in-service training each year to update advocate skills.
A very committed full time staff consisting of three volunteer coordinators and the executive director are available 24-7 to assist with every aspect of the advocate’s case work. That includes discussing the details of your case, report drafting and final preparation, help with problems and concerns, providing needed materials, legal assistance if needed, and walking newer advocates through the process to include court appearances. New volunteers are routinely matched up with experienced advocates who mentor them until they are confident to accept cases on their own.
To volunteer or to just chat about your interest in volunteering to become a CASA, please contact our offices at 423-461-3500, or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org about your interest and any questions not answered here.