A Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer is a trained citizen who is appointed by a judge to represent the best interests of a child in court. Children helped by CASA volunteers include those for whom home placement is being determined in juvenile court. Most of the children are victims of abuse and neglect.
A CASA volunteer provides a judge with carefully researched background details about the child to help the court make a sound decision about that child’s future. Each home placement case is as unique as the child involved. The CASA volunteer must determine if the best interest of the child is staying with their parents or guardians, being placed in foster care, or being freed for permanent adoption. The CASA volunteer makes a recommendation on placement to the judge and follows through on the case until it is permanently resolved.
To prepare a recommendation, the CASA volunteer talks with the child, parents, family members, social workers, school officials, health providers and others who are knowledgeable about the child’s history. The CASA volunteer also reviews all records pertaining to the child: school, medical, case worker reports and other documents.
In Hawaii, social workers are employed by the state sometimes working on as many as 40 to 60 cases at a time; they are frequently unable to conduct a comprehensive investigation of each case. The CASA volunteer has more time and a smaller caseload (average of 1 to 2 cases) to investigate the case. The CASA volunteer does not replace a social worker on a case; they are an independent appointee of the court. The CASA volunteer thoroughly examines a child’s case, knows about various community resources and makes recommendations to the court independent of state agency restrictions.
The CASA volunteer does not provide legal representation in the courtroom, that is the role of the attorney. However, the CASA volunteer does provide crucial background information that assists attorneys in presenting their cases. It is important to remember that CASA volunteers do not represent a child’s wishes in court. Rather, they speak for the child’s best interests.
CASA volunteers come from all walks of life and with a variety of professional, educational and ethnic backgrounds. There are more than 70,000 CASA volunteers nationally. Local programs vary in number of volunteers they utilize. Aside from their CASA volunteer work, 64% are employed in full or part-time jobs, and the majority tend to be professionals with 58% college or university graduates. The majority (82%) of the volunteers nationwide are women. We need more male volunteers in Hawaii.
CASA volunteers offer children trust and advocacy during complex legal proceedings. They help explain to the child the events happening involving the case, reasons they are in court and the roles of the judge, lawyers and case workers. While remaining objective observers, CASA volunteers also encourage the child to express his or her own opinion and hopes about the case.
The number is up to the volunteer, but an average caseload is 1 to 2.
Yes. Juvenile and family court judges implement the CASA program in their courtrooms and appoint volunteers. CASA has been endorsed by the American Bar Association, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention of the U.S. Department of Justice.
CASA is a priority project of the Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. The office encourages the establishment of new CASA programs, assists established CASA programs, and provides partial funding for the National CASA Association.
There are now 930 CASA programs in every state across the country, including Washington D.C. and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Preliminary findings show that children who have been assigned CASA volunteers tend to spend less time in court and less time in the foster care system than those who do not have CASA representation. Judges have observed that CASA advocated children also have better chances of finding permanent homes.
Each case is different. A CASA volunteer usually spends about 10 hours doing research and conducting interviews prior to the first court appearance. More complicated cases take longer. Once initiated into the system, volunteers work about 10 hours a month.
The volunteer continues until the case is permanently resolved. One of the primary benefits of the CASA program is that, unlike other court principals who often rotate cases, the CASA volunteer is a consistent figure in the proceedings and provides continuity for a child.
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 interests.
Children who are victims of abuse and neglect and become wards of the court are assigned CASA volunteers. The program is most common in juvenile and family court cases.
The National CASA Association is a nonprofit organization that represents and serves the local CASA programs. It provides training, technical assistance, research, media and public awareness services to members.
In Hawaii, CASA programs are funded through the state’s department of justice. However, the state does not provide funding or personnel to recruit volunteers. This is why Friends of CASA – Hawaii is needed. The National CASA Association is funded through a combination of private grants, federal funds (U.S. Justice Department), memberships and contributions.
CASA programs are known by a variety of names. In Hawaii law (HRS 587) they are called Volunteer Guardians ad Litem.
Complete a 5 week CASA overview training and court observations; Clear all CPS/CAN registry, criminal checks, and FBI Clearances; Demonstrate ability to serve under the judiciary’s code of conduct with honor, compassion, and courage. Commitment without compromise to advocating for the best interest of a child: one year minimal or for the life of a case. Minimum age is 21 to serve as a CASA Volunteer