What is CASA?
A Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer is a trained citizen who is appointed by a judge to represent the best interests of a court dependent child. Children helped by CASAs include those for whom home placement is being determined in juvenile court. Most of the children are victims of abuse and neglect.
What is the CASA’s role?
A CASA provides the court with carefully gathered information about how the child is doing while they are part of the dependency court system. This information helps the court make a sound decision about the child’s future.
Where do CASAs get their authority?
The authority for a CASA program comes from the State of California’s Welfare and Institution Code 100. The code states that each CASA shall serve at the pleasure of the court having jurisdiction over the proceedings in which a CASA has been appointed and that the CASA shall do all of the following:
- Provide independent, factual information to the court regarding the cases to which he or she is appointed.
- Represent the best interests of the children involved, and consider the best interests of the family, in the cases to which he or she is appointed. (W&I Code 102c)
Juvenile court judges implement the CASA program in their courtrooms and assign cases to the CASA program. When a volunteer is appointed to a case, they become an official part of the judicial proceedings, working alongside attorneys and social workers as an appointed officer of the court. At the time of their appointment, the volunteer is given an Order of Appointment signed by the judge that gives them the authority to act on their assigned case.
How does the CASA relate to the child he or she represents?
CASAs offer children trust and advocacy during the complex legal proceedings. CASAs contact the child on a regular basis to observe and gather information about the child’s well being. They encourage the child to express his or her own opinion and hopes while remaining objective observers. They explain to the child the events that are happening, the reasons they all are court dependent, and the roles the judge, lawyers and social workers play.
How does a CASA gather information about a case?
To prepare a recommendation, the CASA talks with the child, social worker, caregiver, school officials, health providers and others who can offer insight into the well-being of the child. The CASA also reviews records pertaining to the child -- court, school, medical, and case worker reports along with other documents as case informational needs are identified.
How does a CASA differ from a social service caseworker?
Social workers generally are employed by state governments. They work on several cases at a time and are frequently unable to conduct a comprehensive investigation of each assigned child. The CASA is a volunteer with more time and smaller caseloads (no more than two children). The CASA does not replace a social worker on a case: he or she is an independent appointee of the court. The CASA makes recommendations to the court independent of the social service worker.
How does the role of a CASA differ from an attorney?
The CASA does not provide legal representation in the courtroom. That is the role of the attorney. However, the CASA does provide crucial background information that can assist attorneys in presenting their cases. It is important to remember that CASAs do not represent a child’s wishes in court. Rather, they speak to the child’s best interests.
Is there a “typical” CASA?
CASAs come from all walks of life, with a variety of professional, educational and ethnic backgrounds. There are more than 900 CASA programs nationwide with over 52,000 sworn CASA volunteers.
What training does a CASA receive?
CASAs undergo a thorough training course conducted by the local CASA program. During their training, which averages 40 hours, volunteers learn about social service and courtroom procedures from the principals in the system – lawyers, social workers, court personnel and others. The CASAs also learn effective advocacy techniques and are educated about family systems and the effects that abuse, neglect and abandonment has on children. Once the volunteers have completed and passed their training, they are sworn in as officers of the court and take an oath to conduct themselves in accordance with the rules of the court.