You can become a Court Appointed Special Advocate
Becoming a CASA Volunteer is one of the most challenging and rewarding volunteer opportunities you can find. CASA Volunteers are trained volunteers appointed by a Children’s Court judge to represent the best interests of abused and neglected children in court. These children are temporarily in foster care in the custody of the Children Youth and Families Department. CASA Volunteers provide the Children’s Court with carefully researched information to help the judge make a sound decision about the child’s future – whether it is in the child’s best interest to return to his or her parents or guardians, remain in foster care, be placed with other relatives, or be legally freed for permanent adoption.
What do CASA volunteers do?
CASA Volunteer activities in an abuse and neglect case are diverse and comprehensive. CASA Volunteers work both in and out of the courtroom. They build relationships with the children, family members, and foster caregivers. They work in concert with the judges, lawyers, social workers, service providers, parents, and teachers. However, because they generally carry only one or two cases at a time, CASA Volunteers are able to give each child the individual attention he or she needs, to understand their cultural environment, the family dynamics, their specific issues and concerns, and the progress of any court-ordered therapies.
No two cases are alike; however, in the course of their investigation, CASA Volunteers may:
- Explain the legal process to families, allowing them to more fully participate in the proceedings and to comply with recommended treatment plans.
- Monitor the children’s well being through visits to foster caregivers, and meet with prospective adoptive parents.
- Work closely with classroom teachers, therapists, and day care providers who are keenly aware of the children’s educational needs and progress.
- Help identify special needs and recommend appropriate services - everything from specialized therapy to summer music camp – to help the children heal from the abuse.
- Ensure that the children’s medical and mental health needs are met.
- Participate in school special education planning meetings, CYFD staff treatment plan meetings, case reviews, and all permanency planning sessions – collaborating with professionals regarding all aspects of the case.
CASA Volunteers are free to contact and question anyone to determine what is in the best interests of the children they represent. In fact, no one else involved with these cases has the freedom of access or the "big picture” view that the CASA Volunteers have. Based on a broad and comprehensive understanding of the case, CASAs submit periodic written and oral reports to the Family Court Judge recommending specific actions for each child’s future care. Ultimately a judge decides their permanent placement (reunification with their parents, permanent guardianship, or being legally freed for adoption). However, operating under similarly overwhelming conditions of too many cases and too little time, judges rely heavily on input from CASA Volunteers and other case professionals in making these decisions.
What are the requirements for becoming a CASA?
CASA Volunteer Training consists of 35 hours of training, including homework and court observations. CASA Volunteer Training is normally held in Santa Fe.
CASA Core Training addresses:
- The child protective services system
- The judicial process in abuse and neglect cases
- The CASA Volunteer’s role in gathering, monitoring, and reporting information
- Cultural and diversity issues
- Impacts of mental illness, substance abuse, domestic violence, and poverty on family dynamics
- Educational, emotional and psychological development of children
- Community resources and services
After you have completed CASA Volunteer Training, you will be assigned your first case. Our staff, and our team of experienced CASA Volunteers will be available to you for support and assistance.
National CASA Association [www.casaforchildren.org] also requires each CASA Volunteer to obtain 12 hours of continuing education annually. You can meet this requirement by attending our monthly in-service training programs and/or any of several local and regional conferences or through reading books, watching videos or attending other programs on related topics.
If you are ready to become a CASA Volunteer, please follow this link or call us at (505) 820-1500.
How does the role of a CASA volunteer differ from a lawyer?
Attorneys are charged with representing their client's legal interests and must follow the wishes of their client. The CASA is appointed as an officer of the court and is responsible for making recommendations to the judge regarding the future permanent placement of each child. The CASA volunteer submits written and verbal recommendations to the court that assist the court in decision making.
Is there a typical CASA volunteer?
CASA volunteers come from all walks of life, with a variety of educational and ethnic backgrounds. There are more than 62,000 CASA volunteers nationally and more than 30 are active annually in the First Judicial District (Santa Fe, Los Alamos and Rio Arriba counties). Aside from their CASA volunteer responsibility, many are employed in regular full-time jobs. The only personal qualities you need to become a CASA volunteer are:
- A concern for children
- A genuine desire to help
- The ability to remain objective
- The maturity to deal with emotional situations
- The commitment to complete a 35-hour training course
- Sensitivity to people who are different from yourself
- Access to transportation and a flexible schedule
- The ability to offer 15-20 hours per month of your time
- A willingness to devote at least one year to complete an assigned case
How many cases does a CASA volunteer have at one time?
Typically each CASA carries one case at a time. As activity on a case winds down, some volunteers opt to take on a second case before the first one is dismissed from the court.
How much time does it require?
The scheduling of most volunteer activities is flexible. While each case is different, a CASA volunteer usually spends an average of 15-20 hours each month doing research and spending time with the children on their case. More time is usually required at the very beginning of a case.
Is there a concern for my personal safety?
No. You may ask your Volunteer Coordinator to attend any and all visits with you at the home of the parents and foster parents. You may also schedule your visits with the parents or children in the presence of the social worker.
Your CASA Volunteer Coordinator is aware at all times of what is happening throughout your case and will step in for you at any given time.
There are plenty of volunteer opportunities to lend your talents to CASA if taking a child’s case is not a good fit for you. Our CASAmigos members can contribute one or two hours a week, commit to a special event for the day, or get involved in planning fundraising or special events with CASA staff and board members.