What is a CASA Volunteer?
A Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer is an everyday citizen that juvenile court judges appoint to advocate for the well-being of children who have been removed from their homes or at risk of being removed from their homes due to abuse and neglect. As a “CASA” (Court Appointed Special Advocate), you speak up for the best interests of these children in juvenile court through a written report. They stand up for these children and change their lives.
CASA volunteers do not have to be lawyers or social workers. Our volunteers are a diverse group of community members with a basic desire to help abused and neglected children. CASA volunteers receive training from experts in child welfare and juvenile dependency court. When a CASA volunteer is assigned to a case, they have the complete support of CASA of Maury County’s professional staff.
What children are assigned to CASA volunteers?
The children are volunteers work with have been removed from their homes or at risk of being removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect. These children have come to the attention of the juvenile court through no fault of their own. Oftentimes, the person responsible for care of the child is the one who has let them down the most.
What is the role of a CASA volunteer?
A CASA volunteer’s role is to review the information relating to the child and parents, assess individual needs, develop a relationship with the child through monthly visits, collaborate with the team of professionals involved in the case (social workers, caregivers, teachers, attorneys), submit court reports, attend court hearings, and generally advocate for the child’s best interests.
Based on the CASA volunteer’s work, he or she provides the judge with a carefully researched report on the background of the child to help the court make a sound decision about that child’s future. Each case is as unique as the child involved. The CASA volunteer recommends 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 made eligible for permanent adoption. The CASA volunteer thoroughly examines a child’s case, knows about various community resources and makes recommendations to the court based on these findings. A CASA volunteer seeks to address the child’s most vital needs – housing, education, and healthcare – by ensuring that appropriate, court-ordered services are being received. In addition to a CASA’s input to the court, a CASA volunteer can serve as a caring, consistent, adult role model to a child during a trying and oftentimes chaotic time.
How are CASA volunteers different from social service caseworkers or DCS?
Social workers generally are employed by the state and are working many cases at one time. In Tennessee, many social workers involved in our cases work for the Department of Children’s Services (DCS) and are called Family Service Workers (FSW). Whereas a FSW may have as many as twenty (20) cases at one time, the CASA volunteer has a smaller caseload (average 1-2 cases) and more time to discover the details of a case. The CASA volunteer does not replace a social worker on a case; rather, they are an independent appointee of the court as authorized by the Tennessee Code Annotated (T.C.A. §37-1-149). The CASA volunteer can thoroughly examine a child’s case, has knowledge of community resources, and can make a recommendation to the court. CASA volunteers do not provide direct services such as transportation of children and families or supervision of visitations between children and families, but the CASA volunteer can assist families in locating these resources.
How does the role of a CASA volunteer differ from an attorney?
The CASA volunteer does not provide legal representation or advice like an attorney. The CASA volunteer does provide crucial background information that assists attorneys in presenting their cases. In Tennessee, children who come into foster care as a result of abuse or neglect will have an attorney called a Guardian ad Litem, appointed by the Court, to represent his/her best interests. The CASA volunteer works alongside the Guardian ad Litem, as well as other participants in a case. T.C.A. §37-1-149 outlines the guidelines for appointment of a special advocate.
Are there other agencies or groups providing similar service?
No. There are other child advocacy organizations, but CASA is the only program where volunteers are appointed by the court to represent the child’s best interests.
What are the benefits of a CASA program?
The main benefit of the CASA program is that the child learns that there is one special person whose purpose is to help him or her. Consequently, the system seems a little less overwhelming. The judge receives important information to assist him or her in making a decision about the child’s future. The volunteer advocate becomes directly involved in protecting the rights of children.
Recently, the National CASA Association commissioned a study regarding the effectiveness of CASA programs. Findings show that children who have been assigned CASA volunteers tend to spend less time in court and less time within the foster care system than those without CASA representation do. To read more about the findings, click here.
How much time does it require?
The requirements vary from case to case. However, most CASA volunteers spend 10 to 15 hours per month per case until the case is resolved.
How long does a CASA volunteer remain involved with a case?
The volunteer continues until the case is resolved and permanency has been achieved. Local programs suggest that the volunteer commit enough time to the program in order to follow through until the resolution of the case. The length of time until resolution and permanency is met is unique to each case. One of the primary benefits of the CASA program is that the CASA volunteer is a consistent figure in the proceedings and provides continuity for a child.
How can I become a CASA volunteer?
If you are interested in becoming a CASA volunteer, please contact our Volunteer Coordinator by phone at (931) 381-4733 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. All CASA volunteers must complete a brief application and meet with our Volunteer Coordinator to discuss in further detail the role and responsibilities of a CASA volunteer. After completing our application and meeting with our Staff member, you will be enrolled in our pre-service training. Our pre-service training covers a variety of topics related to the child welfare system and a CASA volunteer’s role in that system. For information on our next pre-service training, check for updated posts on our website or contact our Volunteer Coordinator.