What is a CASA?
A CASA volunteer is a regular everyday person who is trained to work as an advocate for children in their local communities who have been removed from their homes because of abuse or neglect. CASA volunteers are appointed by a family court judge to a child’s case in order to ensure that the child remains a priority in an overburdened child welfare system, and that the judge maintains an accurate understanding of the child and his/her case. CASAs get to know the child while also gathering information from the child’s family, teachers, doctors, therapists, caregivers, and anyone else involved in the child’s life. This is done in order to make independent and informed recommendations that help the judge decide what’s in the best interest of the child.
Who are the children CASA serves?
CASA serves children from birth to age 18 (and sometimes after 18 if they decide to stay in the foster care system, which they have the option to do until they’re 21). In 2017, 524 children in Passaic County were placed into foster care. Only 250 of those children had a CASA volunteer. Our goal is for every child in foster care to have a CASA volunteer.
Where do the children live?
When children are removed from home, they can be placed in a foster home, a relative’s home, a group home, or other residential facilities. The vast majority of these placements are within Passaic County.
Is there a typical CASA volunteer?
There is no typical CASA volunteer! People of all ages, races, genders, and professions make excellent CASA volunteers. Currently we have just over 90 active volunteers. Some work full-time jobs, some are retired, some are stay-at-home parents, some have children and grandchildren, others do not. The only thing they all share is a commitment to improving children's lives, a willingness to learn, and open minds about working with people different from themselves.
What is the time commitment to be a CASA volunteer?
We estimate that most CASA volunteers spend 7-12 hours a month on a case, and that the average case length is 18 months. These numbers are rough estimates, however, as every case is different and time commitments can depend on the complexity of the case and what is currently going on.
Becoming a CASA volunteer is definitely a time commitment, but the scheduling of volunteer activities is mostly flexible and can be done when works best for the volunteer, the child, and the other parties involved. The primary exception to this flexibility is appearing in court, which happens approximately every three months. CASA volunteers are expected to appear in court for their child’s hearings and are usually given the date and time three months prior, allowing for time to request off of work, arrange for childcare, or take any other steps necessary to attend. Also, CASA volunteers will need to be able to meet with their volunteer Case Supervisor during daytime hours, as well as their Division of Child Protection and Permanency caseworker.
How does CASA support volunteers?
CASA volunteers are all assigned a Case Supervisor, who functions as their go-to source of support and guidance throughout their case. Case Supervisors are experienced child welfare professionals who are knowledgeable about the situations and concerns a volunteer may encounter while serving as a CASA volunteer. Case Supervisors also attend court with CASA volunteers and in exceptional situations may be able to attend a meeting or hearing that a CASA volunteer is unable to attend.
Is being a CASA volunteer safe?
Passaic County CASA has been in operation since 2007, and we have had zero reported safety issues for our volunteers. Volunteers are expected to take commonsense precautions when going into unfamiliar neighborhoods, and remain aware of their surroundings. The safety of our volunteers is a top priority and Case Supervisors are there to help volunteers navigate all safety concerns specific to their individual cases.
How does a CASA volunteer gather information on the child’s case?
CASA volunteers begin by getting to know the child and the important people in that child’s life, including parents, teachers, therapists, doctors, and family members. The CASA volunteer has access to their child’s medical, educational, and legal files and is expected to scrutinize the facts surrounding the child’s placement. The CASA volunteer remains knowledgeable about that child by seeing him/her in-person at least once per month.
This is not an investigation into the abuse or neglect that the child may have experienced. Investigators with the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP) drive that investigation. A CASA volunteer is solely responsible for assessing and advocating for the child’s best interest until they are placed in a permanent home.
What will I learn about in CASA’s Volunteer Training Program?
You will learn about topics like: Trauma, Resilience, Mental Health, Poverty, Substance Abuse, Domestic Violence, Cultural Competence, Educational Advocacy, the Court Process, Communications Skills and more.
When does training take place and how long does it take?
CASA training is a 36-hour course designed to produce qualified, educated advocates. It is deliberately structured to give new volunteers maximum exposure to the issues and experiences they can expect to encounter while on a case.
Passaic County CASA offers both daytime training and evening training sessions.
How many children on average does a CASA volunteer serve?
CASA volunteers all start with one case, which could be a single child or a sibling group. Experienced volunteers who wish to take on additional cases with additional children are welcome to do so with their supervisor’s approval.
What are the requirements for becoming a CASA volunteer?
A volunteer must be at least 21 years of age, a United States citizen, and have lived in the United States for the past five years. Volunteers must also be able to pass extensive background checks. For the safety of the children we serve, we require volunteers to pass child abuse, sex offender, and criminal background checks. Prospective volunteers are also required to complete an application, attend a pre-training interview, and participate in 36 hours of CASA training. Throughout the year, a CASA volunteer must complete 12 hours of in-service training.
Volunteers should have effective oral and written communication skills, be comfortable with computer technology including email and word processing, and have access to their own transportation.
What are the financial obligations of being a CASA volunteer?
Volunteers are expected to travel to see their child, attend relevant meetings, and attend court hearings. Costs involved include gas, tolls, and parking, which CASA does not reimburse for. CASA volunteers may also choose to meet with their child in a public location like a restaurant or café, which may necessitate additional expense. CASAs are not permitted to buy gifts for their child, although we are happy to provide birthday and holiday gifts from Passaic County CASA.
Do CASA volunteers interact with a child’s biological parent(s)?
When it is safe and in a child's best interest to do so, a CASA's primary goal on a case is to help children reunify with their families. This means that it is important to get to know and work with a child's biological parents, as well as their extended family.
Do CASA volunteers stay in contact with children after the case closes?
Once a case is over and children have safely reached permanency, it is up to the child, the child’s caregivers, and the CASA volunteer if they wish to remain in touch in an informal capacity.