About a year ago I started contemplating how I could best utilize my volunteer time off (VTO) that Candoris provides employees annually. I spent a lot of time praying that God would guide me to the right organization, as I was not entirely certain what type of nonprofit I wanted to dedicate my time to or even really where to start. I began researching, and as I explored my different interests, I came upon the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) Program. This nation-wide program trains volunteers to essentially be a voice for children who are within the county’s court system due to abuse or neglect situations.
What is a Court Appointed Special Advocate?
A Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA), is a trained volunteer who is appointed by a judge to represent the best interests of a child in court. Although these children do have a social worker (and a myriad of others) assigned to their case, these individuals are often overwhelmed and do not have the time to solely focus on one child and their needs as much as they would like to. The CASA, however, has one child or sibling group to dedicate their time and attention to and they ensure a comprehensive investigation can be obtained.
What is the process to become a CASA?
To become a CASA volunteer, I first considered the amount of time I would need to dedicate to my training and also, once assigned, to a case. The initial training to become a CASA is anywhere from 40-50 hours (each county can vary on their requirements) which includes group conferences and onsite location visits. Once graduated, sworn in, and assigned a case, a volunteer typically spends 10-15 hours a month working their assigned case and anywhere from 18-24 months (although sometimes longer) on one child’s case.
What are the duties of a CASA?
A CASA’s main functions are to gather information that is pertinent to the case, serve as an advocate by presenting these facts on the behalf of the child in a report to the court, to facilitate communication between all involved in the case, and to monitor the case to ensure the dependency status of the child is resolved as efficiently as possible.
Each function of a CASA is critical to ensure that the best outcome for that child’s life is achieved. A CASA will spend a significant amount of time speaking to all involved within that case and child’s life – including family members, friends of the family and child, teachers, doctors, police officers, and anyone that is knowledgeable of the case. A CASA is expected to fully understand all the aspects of that child’s life.
Effectiveness of a CASA
Children who have a CASA have a better chance at being “in the system” for far less time than those who do not have an advocate. I have listened to testimonies of children who could not be more grateful that they had an advocate in their lives. These children have often said that they just needed one consistent person in their lives who actually cared about them.
Using VTO to make a difference
This training has been difficult but has already become one of the most rewarding experiences I have been through. What I find amazing is that anyone can essentially be a CASA. You do not need to have a degree in social work, psychology, or childhood development – you just need to bring your best self to the table each and every day. I am excited to start my next steps and be assigned my first case. If you want to make a lasting, positive impact on a child in need in your own community, especially if you have company-offered VTO to utilize, I highly recommend considering becoming a CASA.