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A CASA volunteer is an advocate for a child who has a protective case due to abuse or neglect in Hampden County Juvenile Court. Judges request a CASA in cases where children may not have anyone in their lives who can effectively advocate for them in the child welfare system. Judges also request a CASA in cases that have so many people involved that they need an independent, objective opinion about what is in the child’s best interests. Volunteer Advocates conduct thorough research on the background of a 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 s/he believes 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 a child’s case in Court. In many instances the CASA volunteer is the one consistent person involved in the child’s life during this time. In addition to reporting to the Court, a CASA will provide best interest advocacy within the community for the child.
As the eyes and ears of the Judge, a CASA volunteer ensures that a child is receiving the most appropriate services available and that achieving permanency is a primary focus. The information the volunteer gathers is used to make recommendations to the Judge in areas such as placement, family visitation, education and treatment for physical and mental health needs. The CASA volunteer plays an essential role in bridging the gap in communication between the Court and the individual service providers in Hampden County (such as the Department of Children and Families, the school system, and private treatment and foster care programs). A child’s case will have multiple court hearings, usually several months apart, giving the judge many opportunities to oversee the service plan. The CASA volunteer prepares a report for each of these hearings, informing the Court how well the child is doing and suggesting any modifications that would help achieve permanency.
CASA cases involve children from birth to age 18. The majority of CASA’s Cases are for Care and Protection, meaning the child has been abused or neglected and the state has requested custody. 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.
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 the 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 made toward a positive outcome.
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.
The number of hours per week varies depending on a child’s needs and the stage of the case. We estimate the monthly range to be five-to-twenty hours. You will spend more time on the case in the beginning, as you learn about the child and speak with everyone involved in the child’s care. Much of this work can be done over the phone. You must keep regular contact 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 lengths vary, we ask that a volunteer be prepared to stay with a case for 18 months.
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 to assist with any hurdles along the way. You will maintain regular communication with your supervisor so the program can maximally support you. Good communication also allows staff to step in when you have a conflict in your schedule.
In addition to the basic qualifications listed above, a strong CASA volunteer must possess a desire to advocate for the most positive outcome for a child, the ability to be objective, and the dedication to be consistent for that child. Strong interviewing, writing, and organizational skills will assist you in your case investigation and court report writing. In addition, ease using the computer not only for emailing, but also for online learning, word processing and data-base management is important. 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 the system.
The process begins with registering for and attending a one-hour Information Session. After you attend, if you want to pursue your interest in volunteering with CASA further, you’ll need to complete an online application. (You’ll learn more about that in the Info. Session.) We will then set up an interview so that we can learn about each other and make sure there is a good match. If there is, the next step is an Orientation, followed by a 30-hour Pre-Service Training. After an exit interview and mutual agreement that you are ready to become a Court Appointed Special Advocate, you will be sworn-in by the First Justice of the Hampden County Juvenile Court. Then you will be ready to take your first case.
Due to Covid-19, we have made some changes to Pre-Service Training. Our next Training will begin in January 2021. The curriculum, provided by National CASA, is essentially the same, but instead of face-to-face classes, we are blending an online program, called “Flex,” with Zoom Meetings, for a total of about 30-hours. Training groups typically include eight to twelve participants, who, like you, want to make a critical difference in the life of a child. Over six weeks, we will cover topics such as CASA’s Roles, the Court Process and Report Writing as well as child development, adverse childhood experiences, cultural differences, domestic violence, and substance use, among others.