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The National Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Association has its beginnings in a Seattle courtroom in the late 1970s. Judge David Soukup realized that many abused and neglected children faced a cold and impersonal court system, with only overloaded social workers and lawyers advocating for their interests. In 1977, he suggested that community volunteers step up and agree to advocate for children who can’t speak for themselves. Eventually, the U.S. Congress agreed, and passed the Victims of Child Abuse Act in 1990, which helped to expand the program.
Today, there are approximately 50,000 CASA volunteers around the country who advocate for about 225,000 children who are facing a tough road within the family court system. Although the work they do is immeasurable, they can only represent about half of the total number of children in the system. In all, over 1 million children have benefited from the CASA system since its inception.
Each trained CASA volunteer commits to about 10 hours per week of volunteer time, and agrees to stick by the child through the duration of the case, which typically lasts about a year and a half. More than 900 local CASA offices — operating under a number of different names such as Child Advocates, Voices for Children and Guardian ad Litem — function at a local level to advocate for children.
On the national level, CASA works to devise opportunities for training based on the research they conduct. They provide eLearning programs to better train CASA volunteers as well. In addition to training, national CASA provides technical assistance and helps recruit volunteers. It helps increase public awareness by devising media campaigns and public service announcements in a diverse array of media outlets.
The US Department of Justice provides much of CASA’s operational grants, but it also relies heavily on other private funding. One of the functions of the national CASA is to help get funding for local CASA offices as well. Those donating to CASA will feel confident that their money is being put to good use — 90 cents of every donated dollar goes directly to operating CASA.
In order to become a CASA volunteer, you must first submit to a background check. Upon approval, you’ll have a 30 hour training course, and must commit to as much time as it takes to successfully advocate for the child you have been assigned to. CASA takes this commitment very seriously — your child depends very heavily on your commitment and willingness to stick by their side from start to finish.
@rugbygirl - A friend of mine has been working as a court appointed special advocate and has found it very rewarding.
I do want to clear up a misconception -- it's not necessarily one-on-one. First of all, the CASA might represent all the children in a family as a group. And I don't know if it's done this way everywhere, but my friend is allowed to work for two different sibling groups, which could add up to several children. Still, it's a lot less than a social worker would have. And I think it's different when it's *not* your full-time job; maybe that makes it easier to give your cases more emotional investment.
As far as how it's run -- well
, that's going to vary on the local level. There is a national CASA organization, but then there are different agencies in each area. You'll have to ask around to see if you can find someone who has worked with the agency in your area. Good luck -- I hope you go through with it!
I've been meaning to get involved in CASA for a long time but I've moved often and have never been able to get involved in it because they do want a lengthy time commitment that I was never able to make.
But now that I'm more settled, I'm thinking of getting involved in it again. I really like the idea of a child having one person who is responsible only for that child, not a heavy caseload of children who surely must start to blur together after a while.
Has anyone tried it? Does it work well in practice, or only in theory? Is the organization well-run?
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