Frequently Asked Questions


CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates. A CASA Advocate is a trained volunteer appointed by a judge to represent the best interests of a child in court. Children represented by CASA Advocates are victims of abuse and/or neglect and come before the court to have a judge make decisions about their custody and placement. Each CASA program recruits, screens, trains, supervises and supports CASA Advocates.
The first CASA program was begun in 1977 by a judge in Seattle, WA. There are now 950 CASA programs nationwide providing services to approximately 240,000 children each year. Nationwide, there are more than 93,000 CASA volunteers. In Massachusetts, there are 6 local programs providing support to children – Berkshire CASA, Boston CASA, Essex County CASA, Franklin/Hampshire CASA Program, CASA of Hampden County, and The CASA Project/Worcester County – all supported by the Massachusetts CASA Association.
A CASA Advocate provides best-interest advocacy for children who have been abused and/or neglected. Best-interest considerations in each case include health, safety, day-to-day, and emotional ties. This means that the Advocate:
LEARNS all they can about the child and his/her family and life;
ENGAGES with the child during regular visits; RECOMMENDS placement and needed services in court and monitors the child’s situation until the case is released by the court;
COLLABORATES with other to ensure that necessary services are provided and are in the child’s best interests; and
REPORTS what they have learned and observed to the court, in the form of a detailed report at each hearing.
Social workers provide case management and services to families, often serving as many as twenty cases at a time. A CASA’s role is to advocate for a child’s best interests and help ensure that the child is placed in a permanent home as quickly as possible. A CASA Advocate usually focuses on one case at a time, though occasionally an experienced CASA may handle two cases.
A CASA Advocate does not provide legal advice or representation, which are the roles of the child’s attorney. The CASA Advocate makes recommendations to the court based on what is in the child’s best interest, which may be different from the child’s wishes. The child’s attorney must represent what the child wants.
The vast majority of CASA Advocates carry only one case at a time. A case may involve more than one child since a case refers to a family. On occasion, seasoned CASA advocates may carry two cases at one time.
CASA Advocates visit the children in their placement and offer children trust and advocacy during the complex court proceedings. Where age appropriate, they explain the events that are happening in court and the different roles of the judge, attorneys, and social workers. CASAs also encourage children to share their feelings and needs so that the CASA Advocate can better advocate on their behalf.
CASA Advocates have a variety of background and experiences. There are no special academic or legal background is required. However, CASA Advocates must be willing to make a two-year commitment to the program and to participate in 30 hours of training. Essex County CASA seeks individuals who are objective, trustworthy, responsible, and open to the ideas and cultures of others. Visit our Volunteer with CASA page to learn more.
CASA trainees receive a thorough, standardized 30-hour pre-service training program, adapted from the National CASA/GAL Association. Topics covered include: the juvenile court process, effective advocacy techniques for children, child development, family dynamics, communication, information gathering, report writing, child abuse and neglect, poverty, substance abuse, permanency planning, cultural awareness, confidentiality, and record keeping. CASA trainees also observe court proceedings. After becoming an Advocate, additional learning opportunities are made available through local programs and the National CASA/GAL Association. CASAs are required to participate in 12 hours per year of additional learning.
To prepare his or her recommendations to the court, the CASA Advocate interviews or obtains written records from the child, parents, caretakers, social workers, school officials, health providers, therapists, and anyone else who is knowledgeable about the child.
Each case assigned to a CASA Advocate is supervised by a CASA Advocate Supervisor, who provides guidance, supervision, and support. The Supervisor also assists the Advocate in formulating recommendation for the court, edits the report for content and format, and produced and distributes the final report to the appropriate parties.
Each case is different. An average case requires 15 hours of a CASA’s time per month, but that varies from month to month depending on whether a court report is due. Many CASA Advocates have full-time jobs and manage to do the majority of their CASA work in the evenings and on weekends. However, a CASA Advocate must have flexibility in their schedule to attend periodic daytime meetings and court hearings.
A CASA remains involved with a case until the court closes it. It is important that Advocates agree to make a minimum of a 2-year commitment to ensure continuity for a child who may already have difficulty trusting people and building relationships because of the frequency with which individuals, including parents, other caretakers, social workers and other service providers, come and go in his/her life.
Findings show that children who have been assigned CASA Advocates are more likely to find a safe, permanent home, are more likely to succeed in school, and are half as likely to re-enter the foster care system. Please visit this page on the National CASA/GAL Association website for more information.
Yes. Juvenile judges implement the CASA program in their courtrooms and appoint the Advocates. The American Bar Association and the National Association of Public Child Welfare Administrators have endorsed CASA.
Yes. Through legislative efforts, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts provide partial funding to CASA programs throughout the state. Federally, CASA is a priority project of the Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, which provides partial funding for the National CASA/GAL Association. Additionally, the US Senate designated May 18, 2021 to be National CASA/GAL Volunteers’ Day.
Family Services of the Merrimack Valley administers our program. The Massachusetts Legislature provides partial funding to Essex County CASA. Additionally, the program has been the recipient of grants from the National CASA/GAL Association, the Massachusetts Office for Victim Assistance, local foundations, business and corporations, and donations from individuals, charitable, social and professional organizations.
No, CASAs are appointed by the juvenile court and cannot request to be involved in any particular case. Individuals concerned about their case should speak with their attorney and DCF social worker.