If you haven’t heard of the CASA Program, it’s because judges, social workers, attorneys, and CASAs are required to maintain absolute confidentiality about the children they serve. In order to protect our children, therefore, the agency must work in relative anonymity.
Only a Judge can assign a CASA to a case. On occasion, the children’s or parent’s attorneys, the caseworkers’ attorney or the child’s foster parents, may request that the Judge assign a CASA.
CASAs are assigned to children already in the foster care system or to those at risk of entering foster care as a result of abuse, neglect and/or the parent's/guardian's inability to care for the child.
CASAs may be assigned to children ranging in age from newborn up to age 18.
The role of a Court Appointed Special Advocate is different than a mentor or friend. Advocates make thorough inquires into dependency matters by speaking with all parties involved in the case and submitting formal written reports to the Court. The goal of a CASA is to move children efficiently through the child welfare system into safe, permanent homes where they can grow to be successful adults.
Locally, yes. CASA volunteers make visits with their appointed child and attend court hearings, as well as agency and school conferences.
Most of the time, CASAs work alone; however, staff is available to accompany Advocates to court or professional meetings when appropriate. In addition, CASAs maintain active contact with Advocate Supervisor for support and supervision.
No one specific type of background is required. All CASAs must have the time to devote to the case; the ability to communicate clearly, both orally and in writing; and must complete approximately 30 hours of classroom training and courtroom observation.
The Department of Human Services is the agency that provides protection to Arkansas children in need. Caseworkers are employed by the Department of Economic Security to provide services to strengthen family life and to enable children to remain safe in their own homes, or to reunite them with their parents if they are already in foster care. A CASA does not replace a caseworker on the case, but is an independent appointee of the court who monitors both the actions of the family and the case plan activity, with only the best interests of the child in mind.
A CASA does not provide legal representation. That is the role of an attorney: in Arkansas, children involved in dependency proceedings are appointed their own attorney, who provides legal representation. Instead, the CASA advocates for the best interests of the child. The CASA provides crucial background information that assists judges in making the best decision for a permanent outcome.
Each volunteer and each case is different. The amount of time devoted to a case depends on the specific family and the amount of time the Advocate has available. CASAs devote an average of fifteen hours per month. As cases unfold, the demands of research, interviews and report writing will vary. Some weeks will be busier than others.
The strength of the CASA Program is the appointment of one Advocate to devote the time and attention to a case that each child deserves. Each CASA works one case at a time: that may be one child, or several children in the same family. Occasionally, a CASA may take on another case if the first situation is close to resolution.
Judges have noted the value of the information that a CASA brings to the proceedings and are appreciative of the unique perspective presented by CASAs. In addition, national studies show that a child who has been assigned a CASA is more likely to secure needed services in a timely manner; is moved from placement to placement less frequently; is more likely to have his/her case reviewed regularly by the court; and has a better chance of living in a safe, permanent home than those who do not have CASA representation.
To be accepted into a training session, prospective Advocates must attend a CASA 101 and complete an initial interview. CASA performs background checks as well as reference checks on every potential Advocate.
Most CASAs work full or part-time, some are retired, and some do not work outside the home. Daytime availability and flexibility are essential. Some of the work a CASA does will be gathering information from caseworkers, attorneys and other professionals who work business hours. Therefore, it is important to be able to reach them in their offices.
Advocates with the CASA Program are asked to make a commitment to one case and may renew their commitments annually. The average Advocate volunteers with us for three years, and many have been with us for ten years or more.