Frequently Asked Questions about CASA

What is the CASA Program?

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. Sometimes a CASA is also called a Guardian ad Litem (GAL). 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. The CASA Program recruits, screens, trains, supervises, and supports CASA Advocates.

Is this a new idea?

The first CASA Program was begun in 1977 by a judge in Seattle. There are now more than 900 CASA Programs nationwide providing services to approximately 280,000 children through the dedicated work of more than 70,000 Advocates. In Massachusetts, there are 5 independently operated CASA Programs with offices in Berkshire, Boston, Lawrence, Northampton, Springfield and Worcester.

What is the CASA Advocate role?

Fact finder: A CASA Advocate provides the judge with carefully researched, unbiased information on an abused or neglected child to help the court make sound decisions about the child’s future custody and placement.

Advocate: Through the information gathered, the CASA Advocate identifies and addresses any unmet needs of the child, including educational, physical, emotional, and social needs.

Monitor: The CASA Advocate monitors compliance with the court’s orders and reports findings to the judge.

How does a CASA Advocate’s role differ from that of a social worker?

Social workers provide case management and services to families, often serving twenty cases at a time. A CASA’s role is to advocate for a child’s best interests and help to ensure that the child is placed in a permanent home as quickly as possible.

How does the role of a CASA Advocate differ from that of an attorney?

A CASA Advocate does not provide legal advice or representation, which are the roles of the child’s attorney. The CASA makes recommendations to the court based on what is in the child’s best interests, which may be different from the child’s wishes. The child’s attorney represents what the child wants.

How many cases does a CASA Advocate carry?

Normally a CASA carries only one case at a time. A case may involve more than one child since a case refers to a family. On occasion, if the CASA demonstrates that he/she can carry two cases while maintaining quality advocacy services, a double caseload is permitted.

How do CASA Advocates interact with their CASA child(ren)?

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, lawyers and social workers. CASAs also encourage children to share their feelings and needs so that the Advocates can better advocate on their behalf.

What qualifications does a CASA need?

CASA Advocates are ordinary people with a variety of background and experiences. 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 40 hours of training. The CASA Program seeks individuals who are objective, trustworthy, responsible and open to the ideas and cultures of others. All applications for Advocate service are carefully considered.

What training does a CASA recieve?

CASA trainees receive a thorough, standardized, 40-hour pre-service training program, adapted from the National CASA Association Comprehensive Training for the CASA/GAL. 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, permanency planning, cultural awareness, confidentiality, and record keeping. CASA trainees also observe in court and undergo a comprehensive personal interview. After becoming a Advocate, in-service training programs are offered several times each year as well as individualized coaching.

How does a CASA Advocate investigate a case?

To prepare his or her recommendations to the court the CASA Advocate interviews the child, parents, caretakers, social workers, school officials, health providers, therapists and anyone else who is knowledgeable about the child. The CASA also reviews all written records concerning the child.

What on-going support does a CASA recieve?

A CASA staff member is always available to answer the questions of Advocates and to provide guidance, supervision, direction and support. The CASA Advocate Supervisor assists Advocates in formulating recommendations for the court, edits reports for content and format, and produces and distributes the final report.

How much time does being an Advocate require?

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 work on their CASA cases in the evenings or on weekends. Some flexibility during daytime hours is essential for contacts with service providers and court appearances.

How long does a CASA Advocate remain involved with a case?

A CASA remains involved with a case until the court closes it. It is important that Advocates agree to make a minimum of twenty-four month 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.

How effect have CASA programs been?

Findings show that children who have been assigned CASA Advocates tend to spend less time in the foster care system than those who do not have CASA representation. Judges have observed that CASA children also have better chances of finding permanent homes than non-CASA children. CASAs help children receive needed services that an overburdened social service system sometimes fails to provide until CASAs call attention to the oversight.

Do lawyers and judges support CASA?

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.

Do State and Federal Governments support CASA?

Through legislative efforts, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts provides 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 Association.

How is Essex County CASA funded?

Family Services of the Merrimack Valley administers the Essex County CASA Program. The Massachusetts Legislature provides partial funding to this CASA Program’s funding. In addition, the program has been the recipient of grants from a number of local foundations, businesses and corporations, donations from individuals, charitable, social and professional organizations, and the National CASA Association. We also sponsor fundraising events and activities through the CASA Advisory Committee.