A SAFE PERMANENT HOME ISN’T SOMETHING A CHILD SHOULD ONLY DREAM ABOUT.
CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) of Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem Counties is an organization of volunteer advocates who stand up on behalf of abused and neglected children. Over 1,000 abused and neglected children in our three counties are currently waiting on the critical voice of a volunteer advocate.
What is a CASA volunteer? A CASA volunteer 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.
What does a CASA volunteer do? A trained CASA volunteer 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 in securing a permanent home. A CASA volunteer advocates for a speedy decision that considers a child’s sense of time.
THE CHILDREN WE SERVE:
Each year, hundreds of children in Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem Counties are removed from their homes due to abuse and neglect. These children have experienced terrible trauma, and their lives are turned upside down. Child Protective Services takes legal responsibility for them, and may place them in a foster home or other facility. Due to too few foster homes, siblings are often split up into different places. Children are rarely able to stay in their own schools, daycares, or communities. Everything they have known is gone.
Through no fault of their own, these abused children have become a part of an overburdened child welfare system. They deserve a voice in the courtroom. They need a CASA volunteer!
Why does a child need both a CASA volunteer and an attorney?
A CASA volunteer is able to spend as much time as it takes to gather information about the child and the child’s family. A CASA volunteer 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 and the child’s attorney can work as a team to represent the best interest of the child.
CASA of Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem Counties has 100 active volunteers who come from all walks of life. They span all age ranges. Some are just beginning in the workforce, and others are retired. Over half our volunteers work full-time and have families. Some have backgrounds in the criminal justice system, social work, or child welfare. Other volunteers have no such experience at all.
Why does a child need a CASA volunteer?
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 volunteer is the only person in the case whose sole concern is the best interest of the child. CASA volunteers are assigned one case at a time, one CASA volunteer to one case, to provide a “voice in court”. A CASA volunteer can give his or her full individual attention to a 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 can be the sole source of stability and comfort to fill an enormous void in the child’s life. A CASA volunteer is a trusted, dependable adult who doesn’t go away and who gives the child hope for a better future.
WHY IS CASA IMPORTANT?
Research has shown that children with CASA volunteers
Are half as likely to re-enter foster care
Are substantially less likely to spend time in long-term foster care
Are more likely to be adopted
Have more services ordered for them
Are more likely to have a consistent, responsible adult presence
Spend less time in foster care
Do better in school*
Concerned over making decisions about the lives of abused and neglected children without sufficient information, a Seattle judge conceived the idea of using trained community volunteers to speak for the best interests of these children in court. So successful was this Seattle program that soon judges across the country began utilizing citizen advocates. In 1990, the U.S. Congress encouraged the expansion of CASA with passage of the Victims of Child Abuse Act.
On January 16, 2010, the state of New Jersey became the 38th state to provide statutory authority for its Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program with N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-92. The new law provides CASA Volunteers with statutory authority to continue to advocate in court on behalf of a child’s best interest, enhances their ability to access needed information, and provides a level of security and accountability for the public.
Court Appointed Special Advocates of Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem Counties, Inc. (Vicinage XV) opened its doors to Cumberland County on July 1, 2004, and has since expanded to include Gloucester and Salem Counties. We are currently serving over 75 children.
Today there are about 950 CASA programs in operation nationally, with more than 70,000 women and men serving as CASA volunteers. In New Jersey, there are over 900 CASA volunteers!
We are affiliated with CASA of NJ and National CASA.
*Statistics taken from the National CASA Association website.