What is a Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) and why are they needed?

CASA volunteers are appointed by judges to watch over and advocate for abused and neglected children, to make sure they don’t get lost in the overburdened legal and social service system or languish in inappropriate group or foster homes. Volunteers stay with each case until it is closed and the child is placed in a safe, permanent home. For many abused children, their CASA volunteer will be the one constant adult presence in their lives.

The CASA movement was born, in 1977 in Seattle, when a juvenile court judge saw the need to have more information about the children before making decisions that will affect them long-term. This judge conceived of this volunteer program for citizens to speak up for the best interests of the children in the system and especially in the courtroom. Since then the CASA program has expanded Nationally with recruiting, training and supporting of volunteers in 49 states and the District of Columbia.

For additional information, volunteer opportunities and to give donations please visit the CASA for children website here.

Let’s hear from Alysha, a current CASA volunteer.

How long have you been a CASA volunteer? Over a year with the organization, but I had a dependency & neglect (D&N) case for about 10 months. I'm currently a CASA tutor for a child who has missed a significant amount of elementary school - he/his mom has an open truancy case (and it might move towards a voluntary D&N case). I chose to do CASA tutoring since it still allows me to be a part of a great organization and hopefully make an impact on a little guy that really needs extra support.

What attracted you to the CASA program? I was lucky to have someone advocate for me when I was a child, and I wanted to be able to help another child have a voice.

What was the training program like? What were the qualifications to become a CASA? There were in person training sessions and online sessions (I believe they have stopped the online classes). To become a CASA, I had to submit a resume, be interviewed in person, pass a background check, provide proof of car insurance (for transporting purposes), and then participate in multiple trainings.

It was a manageable amount of training, and I thought it was super helpful in order to navigate a legal arena that I wasn't familiar with. There were also a few hours we spent in the courtroom observing D&N cases, and we were able to get a feel for what our role as CASA would be like, as well as get our questions answered.

Once you have completed all of the qualifications, CASA volunteers are then sworn in by the judge, and you receive a court appointment which allows you to be able to have access to privileged information on a case.

What advice would you give to someone considering being a CASA Volunteer? Be open to changing your expectations about what a child "needs." What I am used to doing for and providing my children is drastically different from what's expected by law. I didn't realize the huge contrast that exists in parenting, and I needed to not let my personal biases interfere in the case. Because there wasn't imminent danger and basic needs were met, that was sufficient to advocate for the child to be with his biological mother. On a personal level, I wanted so much more for the children, but I learned that the children really want and deserve their biological family, even if it's not the standard of care I would want for him/her. It's super rewarding to know you are giving a voice to a child that needs you.

How would you describe your experience as a CASA volunteer? Overall, it was a great experience! I met a new friend (Guin who was the foster mom for one of my CASA boys), and I feel like I was able to make a difference with the family I worked with. My CASA boys were so young that it was hard to know exactly how they felt, but we had lots of fun together, and they were excited to see me each time I came to pick them up or spend time with them. Reunification doesn't always happen, so it was really wonderful to know that the work I did on this case helped bring a family back together.