What is a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA)?
CASA volunteers are everyday people –business people, retirees, stay-at-home moms, and grandparents – who are committed to making a difference for abused and neglected children who might otherwise slip through the cracks in an overburdened foster care system. They are appointed by the judge to guide one child or sibling group through the system to safe, permanent and nurturing homes.
CASA volunteers research case records and speak to each person involved in a child’s life. They monitor the progress of the child and family throughout the case and advocate for the child’s needs in court in school, and in agency meetings. Their independent evaluations allow the court to make better informed decisions.
Because CASA volunteers serve on one case at a time, they truly get to know the child and can give each case the sustained, personal attention it deserves.
A Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Volunteer is a trained community member appointed by a judge to represent the best interests of abused and neglected children in court. CASA Volunteers are not mentors or sponsors. Our CASAs are mature, responsible adults who are easy to talk to and who care deeply about bringing a brighter future to the abused and neglected children of Cole County.
Most children who enter the child welfare system do so because of abuse or neglect by their primary caregiver. This situation frequently leaves children without a strong adult in their lives to ensure they are safe and that their medical, educational, developmental, and personal needs are met. Social Service caseworkers and attorneys often have caseloads of 15-20 children, which can hamper the caseworker’s ability to give individualized attention and support to the children they represent.
In 2020, over 200 Cole County children were removed due to alleged abuse or neglect. These children have often been removed from everything familiar – home, family, friends, and school – and find themselves in a world filled with social workers, lawyers, judges, and courtrooms where life-altering decisions are made on their behalf. CASA serves children from birth to nineteen.
We’re proud to have a wealth of CASA Volunteers from different personal, educational, and cultural backgrounds. Many of our CASAs are retired and more than half of our CASAs are employed in regular, full-time jobs. All of them share the same passion and determination to find a safe, permanent home for abused and neglected children.
As a CASA, you will be a well-respected and important member of the advocacy team for a child. Our intensive training program and ongoing support will help you expand your interpersonal skills, work with individuals from different backgrounds and cultures, and network with volunteers, professionals from other agencies and the court, and CASA staff. The greatest benefit of all, though, is knowing you're helping a child heal, thrive, and find the road home, wherever it lies.
The CASA Volunteer’s ultimate goal is securing safety for the child as quickly as possible. A CASA Volunteer provides the judge with a carefully researched background on the child to help the court make a sound decision about that child’s future. The CASA Volunteer helps determine if it’s in a child’s best interest to be returned to the parents or guardians, be placed in foster care, be placed with relatives, or be freed for permanent adoption. Responsibilities include reviewing records, researching the child’s situation, regularly visiting the child wherever he/she is living, attending meetings concerning the child and family, writing recommendations to the judge before each court meeting, and working with the CASA staff.
Often a CASA is the only constant in the life of an abused and neglected child who may be separated from his or her family and shuffled between the court and foster homes. A CASA offers abused and neglected children comfort and support and can free them from the cycle of abuse. Children with CASA volunteers are more likely to receive therapy, health care, and needed educational services. Judges have observed that CASA children have better chances of finding permanent homes than non-CASA children, and children with CASA Volunteers find safe, permanent homes six months faster than children facing the court alone.
A CASA Volunteer usually spends 10 hours each month on his or her case. There may be court hearings and meetings to attend during the daytime hours, but phone calls and visits can be arranged on evenings and weekends. You will also visit with your child(ren) in person at least one hour per month.
CASA volunteers are appointed to children who have come to the attention of the juvenile court system due to abuse or neglect. Like a mentoring program, the CASA volunteer does develop a relationship with the child through frequent contact; however, the primary role of the CASA volunteer is to gather information about the child, write reports to the court and attend court hearings. CASA is not a mentoring program. The CASA volunteer does not involve the child in their personal life and does not play an active role in the child’s day-to-day life. Instead, the CASA volunteer is involved with the child and the case while the child is in foster care, to help him or her during this difficult time to help have the best possible outcome. Once the case has ended, the CASA volunteer role also ends.
Attorneys represent legal interests. CASAs make recommendations about what would be best for the child. CASAs aren’t responsible for filing legal paperwork with the court, but they do provide crucial information that assists the court in decision making. The attorney is the expert on the law; the CASA is the expert on the child.