You can make a lifelong difference in an abused and neglected child’s life by becoming the child’s voice in the court system as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA). Pamela Butler, a former CASA recipient who is now a college student, summed up CASA’s role nicely:
“When you’re young, no one listens to you. To give a child a CASA is to give them a voice. To give them a voice is to give them hope, and to give them hope is to give them the world.”
A brief history of CASA
CASA was conceived in 1976 by Seattle Superior Court Judge David Soukup after he became frustrated about having to rule on decisions involving abused and neglected children without having sufficient information. Judge Soukup formulated a program, tapped into social resources, and raised funding to recruit and train a corp of community volunteers to act as the child’s voice by speaking up for the best interests of abused and neglected children in court proceedings.
Judge Soukup’s pilot program was so successful that judges across the country began using citizen advocates in their courts. The passage of the Victims of Child Abuse Act in 1990 fueled the spread of the CASA program throughout the United States. Since 1977, CASA advocates have helped more than 2,000,000 children find safe, permanent homes.
Today there are more than 950 CASA program offices with more than 59,000 trained CASA volunteers in the United States. Last year, CASA volunteers spoke up for 243,000 children – about half of the children that are in the child welfare system in this country at any given time.
CASA’s ongoing mission is to support and promote court-appointed volunteer advocacy for abused and neglected children so that they can thrive in safe, permanent homes.
CASA receives most of its funding through the Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention. More than 90% of charitable contributions directly support CASA programs.
Become a CASA Volunteer
CASA volunteers work one-on-one with a child or sibling group in the foster care system. They serve as fact-finders for the judge by thoroughly researching the background of their assigned cases. CASA volunteers interview the child and everyone that has a significant impact on the child’s life (parents, foster parents, social workers, teachers, etc.) and make recommendations to the court on behalf of the child. In essence, the CASA volunteer is a foster child’s “watchdog” for the duration of their court case to make sure the child’s case is resolved quickly and appropriately.
You don’t need to have any special skills or education to become a CASA volunteer. Simply put, you must care about children, be 21 years old or older, and pass a criminal background and fingerprint check. Furthermore, you’ll need:
- To be committed to the program: Typical cases take 1 to 2 years to resolve and require anywhere from 10-20 hours per month.
- To maintain objectivity: CASA volunteers develop an independent, objective and non-judgmental assessment of the child’s current situation by researching case records, speaking to family members, teachers, doctors, lawyers, social workers, etc., and even visiting the child’s home.
- Communication skills: CASA volunteers prepare written reports that outline their recommendation for a child’s permanent placement; and they stand up for the child in court when they present their recommendations to the judge.
Support & Training of CASA volunteers
New CASA volunteers complete 40 hours of training that is broken out between classroom training and courtroom observation:
- Thirty (30) hours of classroom training covers a wide variety of topics such as juvenile court procedures, effective child advocacy techniques, cultural sensitivity training, and child sexual abuse, early childhood development and adolescent behavior.
- Ten (10) hours of courtroom observation of relevant cases.
After training is completed, advocates are sworn in as Officers of the Court and then they have the legal authority to conduct research on behalf of the child and to report findings and recommendations to the court.
Volunteers also complete 12 hours of in-service training each year.
CASA in Douglas County
CASA established a Douglas County program office in 1999, called Children’s Voice: CASA, Inc. In a recent conversation I had with Dawn West, Executive Director of Children’s Voice, I learned that there are approximately 200 children in the Douglas County foster care program. Children’s Voice has matched up 54 Douglas County CASA volunteers with 128 of these children.
Children’s Voice: CASA, Inc. is planning a volunteer orientation in late September/early October and will schedule new volunteer training this Fall. Volunteer training is usually broken up into ten, 3 hour classes, offered once or twice a week, in the evenings from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
If you are interested in making a lifelong difference in a child’s life, please consider becoming a CASA volunteer. To learn more about the upcoming volunteer orientation and training in Douglas County, please contact:
Children’s Voice: CASA, Inc.
8700 Hospital Drive 3rd Floor
Douglasville, GA 30134