A CASA Volunteer Advocate is an officer of the court. A judge appoints a special advocate, as mandated in SDCL 26-8A-20, to represent the best interest of an abused or neglected child in court proceedings.
A trained CASA Volunteer Advocate gathers information for the court. He or she recommends to the judge what the child needs to be safe and what is in the child’s best interest for a permanent home. A CASA Volunteer Advocate advocates for a speedy decision that considers a child’s sense of time.
When the court is making decisions that will affect a child’s future, the child needs and deserves a spokesperson—an objective adult to provide independent information about the best interests of the child. While other parties in the case are concerned about the child, they also have other interests. The CASA is the only person in the case whose sole concern is the best interest of the child. CASA Volunteer Advocates are assigned one case at a time, one CASA to one case, to provide a “voice in court”. A CASA gives individual attention to each case.
An abused or neglected child has come from a world of chaos and instability. For the child, there is fear; fear of being hurt; fear of being alone and fear about the future. For children who are in out-of-home placements, there can be many changes in schools and homes before a decision is made on where the child should live. A CASA Volunteer Advocate can be the sole source of stability and comfort to fill an enormous void in the child’s life. A CASA is a trusted, dependable adult who doesn’t go away and who gives the child hope for a better future.
The roles are not the same. The CASA is independent from the social services system and focuses solely on the child. The DSS/CPS caseworker serves the family—parents and child—by providing direct services. DSS/CPS caseworkers are not able to be a wholly independent voice because they are part of the agency that has already taken a position in the case by filing a petition and bringing the matter to court. A CASA is an independent voice, not part of an agency that may be constrained by rules and regulations, agency policies and fiscal limitations. The CASA volunteer is an officer of the court.
A CASA Volunteer Advocate is able to spend as much time as it takes to gather information about the child and the child’s family. A CASA serves at the request of a judge and provides a report on the best placement for a child. If a court had to pay an attorney to do this job, it would be too costly. A child’s attorney provides legal representation. The CASA Volunteer Advocate and the child’s attorney can work as a team to represent the best interest of the child.
YES! Judges know their decisions are only as good as the information they receive. They count on CASA Volunteer Advocates to be an independent voice and they know that CASA Volunteers Advocates have more time to focus on specific cases. A CASA who can tell the court “I was there- this is what I observed” can be invaluable. More information about the impact a CASA has on a child's life can be found on the National CASA/GAL website.
Studies have shown CASA Volunteers Advocates to be effective in reducing court costs, reducing stays in foster care and even in reducing rates of delinquency and children in need of supervision (CHINS). A study conducted by the National CASA?GAL Association showed that children with a CASA Volunteer Advocate spent approximately one year less in care than a child without a CASA. This represents a savings to taxpayers and it also means that a child finds a permanent, safe home more quickly.
Our CASA volunteer's safety is of the utmost importance! Since our inception, there have not been any incidents of a volunteer being harmed. The continued safety of our CASA Volunteer Advocates is a priority. It is never mandatory for a CASA to enter a house, neighborhood, or meeting if they feel uncomfortable. If a situation ever arises where the CASA does not feel safe, the Case Manager will help to make alternate arrangements.
CASA programs hire staff to manage the program and supervise volunteers. Program costs include: salaries, office support, computers and equipment, travel and training. CASA program staff recruits, trains and supervise volunteers to ensure quality services. National CASA has program standards that all CASA programs are required to meet.
CASA programs are locally supported. United Way, fundraising events, annual giving and grants provide the on going support. National CASA/GAL has a grant system to help start up or expand programs and for tribal CASA programs. CASA programs depend on their communities to support the service.