“I became a CASA because I felt that I needed to do something in my life that was truly worthwhile. I felt a desire to help people and I needed to find an outlet for that desire. I had done other volunteer work in the past, but I needed to find something that held some genuine, personal meaning for me. CASA was a good fit. I understand the pain these children are feeling. As a CASA I can stand up for them and be their advocate when they really need it most.
When I was assigned to Kailyn’s (not her real name) case she was not attending school and hadn’t for well over a year. She was several years behind academically. Where as most people (including those at her school) generally saw Kailyn as a ‘problem child,’ I saw a lot of potential in her. She was dealt a very difficult life and was trying to deal with that while struggling with her studies and a very unforgiving staff. Many staff members seemed to speak only of Kailyn’s negative qualities instead of trying to focus on the good they could see in her.
I think it helped Kailyn just to have someone so actively involved in her life. Before I started working with her I don’t believe she ever had a steady, constant support system. It was important for her to see that someone was truly invested in her life. I think my contribution to Kailyn was giving her a sense of hope.
Being a CASA is really important work. Of course it can be daunting at times because it can take so much time to get things accomplished. It’s hard work! It can be very rewarding though too. In the end, what matters most is that you have helped a child and possibly changed their life. In the end, you’ve really made a difference.”
-Shannon, a CASA Volunteer
Frequently Asked Question’s About Volunteering for CASA
1. What Exactly Does a CASA Volunteer Do?
The CASA volunteer is an advocate for a child that has a case in Hampden County Juvenile Court, either the Springfield or Holyoke divison. Judges assign a CASA in cases where the child may not have anyone in their lives that can effectively advocate for them in the child welfare system. CASAs are also requested by judges when the cases have so many people involved that they need an independent, objective opinion about what is in the child’s best interests. CASA volunteers work on all kinds of cases for the Court: children who need care and protection from abuse and/or neglect, children who have committed relatively minor delinquent acts, and children who need services from the Court because of issues at home or in school. Volunteer Advocates conduct thorough research on the background of the child, review Court and Department of Children and Families records, and interview people who are involved in the case, especially the child. The CASA volunteer then writes a report to the juvenile court judge, recommending what they believe is best for the child. Essentially, the volunteer becomes the eyes and ears of the judge. The volunteer will maintain these contacts for the life of the child’s case in court. In many instances the CASA volunteer is the once consistent person involved in their lives during this time. In addition to the court reporting volunteer will provide best interest advocacy within the community for the child.
2. What Role Do CASA Volunteers Play in the Child Welfare System?
As the eyes and ears of the judge the CASA volunteer ensures that the child is receiving the most appropriate services, that are available for them and that permanency for children is a primary focus. The information the volunteer gathers is used to make recommendations to a judge in areas such as services, placement, family visitation and education. Once the case goes to Court, the CASA volunteer follows up to ensure that the services that are supposed to be provided for the child are in fact being provided. This could include special education, therapy, or treatment for physical and mental health needs. The CASA volunteer is essentially a go-between with the Court and the individual service providers in Hampden County (such as the Department of Social Services, the school system, and private treatment and foster care programs). The children have multiple court dates in juvenile court, giving the judge many opportunities to oversee their treatment. The CASA volunteer prepares reports for each of these dates (usually several months apart), giving the Court a progress report as to how well the child is doing and if any modifications need to be made to their treatment plan. The CASA volunteer plays an essential role in bridging the gap in communication between the Court and the individual social service programs in Hampden County
3. Who are the children that I would be working with?
CASA cases involve children from birth to age 18. The primary type of case the children are in court for is a Care and Protection Petitions, meaning the child has been abused or neglected and the state has requested custody. CASA also provides advocates for a smaller ratio of Delinquency Petitions and Child Requiring Assistance petitions. Nearly all the children come from backgrounds of poverty and most have experienced trauma. Some of the cases involve severe abuse and neglect; in others the family only needs some assistance to reach the goals that will end court involvement. A volunteer will be provided with a brief history of the child before accepting a case.
4. What help do CASA volunteers offer the children?
The CASA volunteer is in a powerful position to help their child because they usually know the child better than anyone else in the system and have more time to devote to a case. With a CASA to advocate for them, these children are less likely to fall through the cracks of the system. The CASA volunteer ensures that someone is accountable for the child’s situation and that steady progress is being made towards a positive outcome.
5. Is this like a Big Brother/Sister or mentor relationship?
No. While CASA volunteers do get to know the children and form a relationship with them, the primary role is not mentorship and companionship. Our primary obligation is to advocate for the child’s best interests in Court and in the community.
6. How much time is involved with being a CASA volunteer?
The number of hours per week varies depending on the child’s needs and a volunteer’s schedule. You will spend more time on the case in the beginning, as you learn about the child and meet all the other professionals who are involved in their care. Much of this work can be done over the phone. You must keep regular conact with the child, this is often a weekly visit and once a month at a minimum. In the first few weeks of the case you could be putting in 1-5 hours a week, depending on the situation. After a volunteer has completed their initial report to the judge, the time commitment usually lessens because the situation is now being monitored. Each case is different and the needs of the child are likely to change significantly over the life of the case. One of the most valuable facets of a CASA Volunteer is consistency. Volunteers stay with a child for the life of their Court case. While case length varies we ask that a volunteer be preprared to stay with a case for 18 months
7. How much support will I get?
Lots. Although we have a small office, our job is to support our volunteers. We give you the training you need to get started and offer additional trainings on special topics throughout the year. Once training is complete you will receive supervision to develop a plan of action and assist with you any hurdles along the way. You will maintain regular communication with this suprvisor so that program can maximally support you. Staff are available to step in and attend court appearances and meetings when your schedule does not allow. We also take over cases when you go on vacation or need a break.
8. What are the requirements to be a CASA volunteer?
CASA Volunteers must be at least 21 years old, be able to pass a criminal records check, and complete our initial 30 hour training program. A strong CASA volunteer posses a desire to advocate for the most positive outcome for a child, an ability to be ojective and the dedication to be consistent for that child. Strong writing and organization skills will assist you in your case investigation and report writing tasks. You do not need to have a background in child welfare. One of the strengths of the CASA program is providing a fresh perspective to the case from a person outside of that system.
9. What is the process for becoming a CASA volunteer?
Fill out and return the CASA Application. We will then set up an interview so that we can learn about each other and make sure it is a good match. You will then be informed of our next training class. At the end of the training, you will be sworn-in by the First Justice of the Hampden Juvenile Court, at which time you will then be ready to take your first case.
10. What is the training going to be like?
The training classes will meet for 30 in class hours and additionally there will be material to cover independently. The class curriculum is provided by National CASA and includes group teaching methods, so you will be learning alongside other new volunteers like yourself. Classes are held several times per year. We are very flexible about scheduling the classes: sometimes they are during the day, other times in the evening. A schedule will be developed for each class depending on the applicant’s schedules. Class sizes range from 5-15 people.
11. Ready to Apply?
Fill out our CASA Application today!
12. Do you have other questions?
Call the CASA office at (413)781-6523 or email us at email@example.com