What are CASAs?
Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs) are trained volunteers who research the best interests of children involved in Family Court proceedings. They submit reports to the Court that include recommendations reflecting each child's needs and help to ensure needs are met while awaiting permanent placement.
Who volunteers for CASA?
CASA volunteers come from a variety of professional, educational, and cultural backgrounds. No special legal or human services background is required. Volunteers come from all walks of life and age ranges—and all are caring, dedicated individuals willing to advocate passionately on behalf of some of the area's most vulnerable children.
How much training is required?
CASA volunteers undergo an initial 30-35-hour training where they learn about courtroom procedure, effective advocacy techniques, child abuse, child development, report-writing, and CASA responsibilities. The training provides information about the roles of the Children’s Bureau, attorneys, Family Court, and others who are involved in abuse/neglect proceedings. They also observe Family Court hearings so that they better understand the legal process involved.
How much time do CASAs spend on a case?
Each case is different, so the amount of time required to get the job done varies significantly. Typically, a CASA spends an average of 8-12 hours per month working on a case. A CASA’s schedule and other commitments are considered when assigning them to a case.
How many cases does a CASA volunteer carry at one time?
The number varies for different CASA programs, but the average case load is one to two cases per volunteer.
How long does a CASA volunteer remain involved?
The volunteer continues until the case is permanently resolved. One of the primary benefits of the CASA program is that the CASA volunteer is a consistent figure in the proceedings and provides continuity for a child.
How does a CASA research a child's case?
To prepare a recommendation, CASA volunteers talk to children, parents, family members, friends, Westmoreland County Children’s Bureau case workers, service providers, school officials, health providers, foster parents, placement staff, attorneys, and any additional parties who are familiar with a child's history. They also review school, medical, casework, and other records pertinent to a case.
How does the role of a CASA differ from that of an attorney?
CASAs do not provide legal representation in the courtroom. However, they do provide crucial background information that helps the children's attorneys, called guardians ad litem (GALs), better understand and present the children's cases. CASA volunteers do not represent a child’s wishes in court, though they voice the child’s wishes. Rather, they speak for the child’s best interest.
Do lawyers, judges and social service caseworkers support CASA?
Yes. Westmoreland County’s Family Court Judges, the Westmoreland Bar Association, and the Westmoreland County Children’s Bureau have all expressed support for Westmoreland County CASA and are part of a collaborative effort to recruit and train volunteers. On a national level, the American Bar Association, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention have all endorsed CASA.
How many CASA programs are there?
CASA of Westmoreland County is one of 21 CASA programs across Pennsylvania and one of more than 990 CASA programs across the United States.
Are there other agencies or groups providing similar services?
No. There are other child advocacy organizations, but CASA is the only program where volunteers are appointed by the court to represent a child’s best interest.
Why do we need CASAs?
CASA came about because too often crucial decisions are made with insufficient information and may not be in the child’s best interest. CASA programs help the court by providing a voice for the child, and help to change a life of hurt to one of hope.
Who is helped?
Each day in Pennsylvania, children are physically, sexually and emotionally abused and/or neglected. When the child welfare system intervenes, these children often find themselves involved in a maze of caseworkers, therapists, attorneys, and judges who must decide where and with whom they will live.
Who are the most vulnerable children
Most of the children served by CASA have experienced out-of-home placements and have coped with multiple losses and separations. These children also experience mental illness, developmental delays, chronic health problems, and/or other disabilities. In some cases, their conditions have been exacerbated by - even caused by – chronic abuse or neglect. Because these children are at greater risk for repeated victimization, CASA representation is especially important.
What are the benefits of CASA
Research suggests that children who have been assigned CASA volunteers tend to spend less time in court and less time within the foster care system than those who do not have CASA representation. Judges have observed that CASA children have better chances of receiving needed services and finding permanent homes than non-CASA children. Once children achieve permanency, they are more likely to have success as they continue to grow into adult hood, obtain employment, and be contributing members of the community.
How is CASA funded?
Many CASA programs nationwide are funded through a state’s department of justice, and many programs are funded through other service organizations. The National CASA Association is funded through a combination of private grants, federal funds, memberships and contributions. Locally, CASA of Westmoreland, Inc. is supported partially by Westmoreland County. However, the majority of operating expenses is provided through grant writing, fundraising, and private donations.