Those who choose to volunteer as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) make a very important commitment to a child. Also known as Child Advocates, Voices for Children or Guardians ad Litem, a CASA volunteer advocates for abused or neglected children facing a cold family court system. Although this system attempts to work in a child’s best interest, the true interests of the child often gets lost among the red tape, lawyers, social workers and parents. A CASA volunteer works to be that child’s voice, to help a child articulate his wants and needs, while making sure that all the resources of the system are used for the child’s benefit.
Today, there are more than 50,000 CASA volunteers nationwide, serving about 225,000 children annually. Unfortunately, this accounts for only half of the children who go through the system every year. Because a CASA volunteer only handles one case at a time, more volunteers are always needed.
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A member of the community can serve at one of 900 local community CASA offices, where they will undergo a background check, and take a 30 hour training course. A CASA volunteer will be expected to provide as many hours as required for the case. Typically, a case will require about ten hours per month, and the average case lasts about a year and a half. The CASA volunteer will stay with the child through the entire case, which is in the child’s best interest. This benefits the child because social workers and lawyers — who must also juggle numerous other cases — may come and go.
Once a CASA volunteer has a case, he or she will be expected to perform several duties. The first is to conduct their own investigation of the case by examining the records of the court and accounts by the social workers, doctors, lawyer and any other pertinent reports. They may also interview the child, family members and foster parents to get a clear picture of the situation. The volunteer will usually have to devote a lot of time getting acquainted with the child in order to get to know them and to gain their trust. He or she will also try to put the child at ease by explaining his situation and answering questions about the case.
The CASA volunteer helps the child determine their desire for the outcome of the case, as well as determine what will work best in the situation the child is. the advocate’s goal is to create a solution that take into account not only the child’s desires, but also what is in the best interest for the child in regards to many factors.
The CASA volunteer appears at all the hearings and meetings pertaining to the child’s case in order to monitor the course of the case as well as to make recommendations on the child’s behalf, and ensure that the child is being adequately represented. She also follows up to ensure that the recommendations are being implemented correctly, and to report to the court if certain requirements are not being met, or if the child is not getting the resources that were allocated to him or her.
Depending on how devoted the CASA volunteer is, he or she may continue to keep in touch with children, even after they are out of the system. Many of these dedicated members of the community truly care for these children and most definitely make a very positive contribution to the social services system.